Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12). UPI | License Photo
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Call it "Revenge of the Hail Mary" by Captain Hail Mary.
Aaron Rodgers, who shocked the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals with end-of-game Hail Mary touchdown passes last season, stunned the New York Giants with a 42-yard Hail Mary touchdown to Randall Cobb on the final play of the first half of Sunday's NFC Wild Card playoff game at Lambeau Field. That play propelled the Packers to a 38-13 victory and a date at top-seeded Dallas in the divisional round next Sunday.
In the 2011 season, the Packers went 15-1 in the regular season but were routed 37-20 by the Giants in a divisional game at Lambeau. On the final play of the first half of that Jan. 15, 2012 game, Eli Manning connected with Hakeem Nicks for a 37-yard Hail Mary touchdown to give the Giants a 20-10 lead.
This time, Rodgers rolled out to his right and uncorked a high pass into the end zone. Cobb was behind four Giants defenders and the ball dropped over their hands and into the waiting mitts of Cobb on the final play of the half.
The Packers, outplayed for most of the half, ran into the locker room with a 14-6 lead.
"A lot," Rodgers said the momentum swing. "It was kind of like that game we had five years ago."
Cobb, who missed the past two games with an injured ankle, added two touchdowns in the second half -- tying an NFL playoff record with three touchdown receptions -- and Rodgers destroyed a Giants defense with three All-Pros in the secondary for 362 yards and four touchdowns.
Rodgers led the Packers (11-6) to their seventh consecutive win. During that span, he has thrown 19 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
"He's playing tremendous football," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He has spoiled all of us around here for a long time."
The Giants (11-6) were down, but they weren't out after the Hail Mary, thanks in part to a controversial decision by Packers coach Mike McCarthy early in the third quarter.
Facing a fourth-and-1 from the Packers' 42-yard line, McCarthy kept the offense on the field, and the Giants stuffed running back Ty Montgomery for a loss. One play later, the Giants were in the end zone when Manning found Tavarres King for a 41-yard touchdown pass that reduced the Packers' lead to 14-13.
The Packers, however, answered. Having moved the ball to midfield, Rodgers went after Giants slot cornerback Trevin Wade, who was in the game for injured veteran standout Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
First, it was a 20-yard gain over the middle to Davante Adams. Then it was a 30-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Cobb to put Green Bay in front 21-13.
"Very important," McCarthy said. "As a play-caller, as a head coach, you're sick to yourself. You feel totally responsible for the decision and the execution of the play and so forth, and then give up the play on the second down. But there's still a lot of football left."
And the Packers dominated the rest of those 20 minutes.
On the ensuing kickoff, New York's Bobby Rainey fielded the ball at the sideline but couldn't keep his balance, stepping out of bounds at the 3. The Packers forced a punt and took advantage of great field position to tack on a 32-yard field goal by Mason Crosby.
The Giants needed an answer but couldn't get it, with Odell Beckham unable to hold onto a third-down pass in which he was wide open for what would have been a big gain.
The Packers put the game away on the ensuing possession. On third-and-3, Rodgers had all day against a three-man rush before Cobb broke away from cornerback Eli Apple in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown reception to make it 31-13 with 9:19 remaining.
Manning threw for 299 yards, but Beckham, just like the Week 5 loss to the Packers at Lambeau, was a nonfactor. A week after his controversial trip to Miami following a win at Washington in the regular-season finale, Beckham caught four passes for 28 yards while being targeted 11 times. He called it "typical" for critics to link the Miami trip to his poor performance.
"At the end of the day, I went through practice, had zero drops, zero missed assignments. There was nothing that could connect seven days ago to today and how we played and executed," he said. "There's just nothing in the world. That's not realistic. I think it did a great job. It created distractions for us. It's unfortunate and that's just the way this world is.
"There's just no way you could connect something that happened seven days ago to this game today and how we came out and played, and how the Packers have won seven in a row and how they scored 38 points and how they executed and came up with the third downs. They did what they needed to do. The connection is just not there, in my opinion. But everybody's going to have their own opinion."
Green Bay finished the season ranked fourth in scoring, and New York was second in points allowed. But the Giants' defense was the unit that dominated at the start.
Green Bay's first three drives went in reverse for minus-8 yards. Yet the Giants couldn't take full advantage. New York's first drive ended on an easy drop by Beckham.
Sterling Shepard (two) and Beckham (one) had chances for big plays on the second drive but couldn't make the plays, so the Giants had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Robbie Gould and a 3-0 lead.
"We didn't handle the ball particularly well tonight," Giants coach Ben McAdoo said. "We didn't handle the ball well enough to win against a good team."
A 51-yard catch-and-run by tight end Will Tye put the Giants in scoring position again, but linebacker Joe Thomas batted down a third-down pass.
Gould's 40-yard field goal made it 6-0 midway through the second quarter.
The Packers slowly swung the field position despite their offensive issues because Giants punter Brad Wing struggled in the cold.
A low 37-yard punt by Wing and a 7-yard return by Micah Hyde set up the Packers at the Giants' 38, and they struck quickly.
On first down, Rodgers threw a bullet up the right sideline for 31 yards to Adams. On second-and-goal from the 5, Rodgers had approximately 8.15 seconds in the pocket before throwing a bullet to Adams for a touchdown against tight coverage by cornerback Coty Sensabaugh with 2:20 remaining in the half.
The Packers' defense forced a punt by Wing, and Rodgers and Co. took over at their 20 with 1:38 to play. On third-and-2 from the Giants' 42, Rodgers threw over the middle to tight end Jared Cook, but the ball was dislodged by linebacker Keenan Robinson with six seconds to play.
Had Cook caught the ball, the clock probably would have run out because Green Bay had no timeouts. On fourth-and-2, Rodgers and Cobb connected for their Hail Mary touchdown.
This was the Giants' first playoff game since winning the Super Bowl following the 2011 season. Only six players remained from that squad.
"When you have a young team like we do, a lot of guys making the playoffs for the first time, I think you have to look at it as a learning situation for those guys on how to deal with this," Manning said. "How to deal with the playoffs, how to get your mind right and don't make it too big so you can go out there and have your best performances in these games. Obviously, from my standpoint, we have to keep working and hopefully get more opportunities."
NOTES: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers became the first player in franchise history with two career four-touchdown games in the postseason. He also did it against Arizona in 2009. ... Packers WR Randall Cobb had three touchdown catches, tying an NFL playoff record held by more than a dozen players, including former Packers WR Sterling Sharpe. ... The Giants outgained the Packers 105-7 in the first quarter. ... Packers WR Jordy Nelson was knocked out of the game by Giants S Leon Hall early in the second quarter. Nelson bobbled a deep pass from Rodgers and was drilled in the midsection by Hall, who was pursuing hard from the middle of the field and forced an incompletion. Nelson had 97 catches for 1,257 yards and a league-high 14 touchdowns during the regular season. ... Giants CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who had six interceptions this season, suffered a bruised thigh in the first quarter and missed most of the first half before returning. ... Giants WR Tavarres King, who had two receptions during the regular season, caught a 41-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.