Photo credit: AP/TonyGutierrez

Moments after Mason Crosby’s last-second field goal gave the Packers a34-31 win over the Cowboys and a trip to the NFC championship game, Packersquarterback Aaron Rodgers was asked about his season-saving completion totight end Jared Cook. “It’s just kind of schoolyard at times, late in thegame like that,” he said.

It was a quintessential Aaron Rodgers throw, who always seems to be themost dangerous after the play has broken down and he has been forced toflee the pocket. He broke the play himself this time, rolling out to hisleft almost as soon as he received the snap, finding the space he needed todance and feint as his receivers scrambled all over the field. The sight ofRodgers out on an island, scanning the field and holding the ball until thelast possible moment, often spells doom for opposing defenses, and this wasno different.

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It wasn’t until after the game that we found out that Rodgers was beingliteral when he invoked the schoolyard to Fox sideline reporter ErinAndrews. As it turns out, that miracle of a throw and catch wasn’t theresult of a designed a play at all, but of Rodgers drawing up routes on thefly:

Rodgers dismissed the idea that his completion to Cook constituted the bestthrow of his career, and he was probably right to do so. The context of themoment will make this throw one everybody remembers, but Rodgers has beenslingingfootballs throughkeyholes his entire career, and did so multiple times last night. Thefirst play of the third quarter was a carbon copy of the pass to Cook, thistime with Rodgers rolling out to his right and hitting Randall Cobb on thesideline right before getting crushed by a closing lineman. And then therewas his first touchdown pass of the game, which somehow found a few inchesof space between Sean Lee’s earhole and arm:

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Just a little over two months ago, the Packers were an objectively badfootball team. Now they’ve won eight games in a row, and there areplenty of ways to go about explaining the turnaround. Ty Montgomeryproviding an actual running attack has helped, as has the emergence of Cookas a big receiving target and the continued stellar play of the offensiveline. But all you really need to do in order to explain how the Packersturned things around is point at Rodgers.

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It’s nearly impossible for one football player, even one as vital as thequarterback, to singlehandedly alter his team’s fortunes. There’s just toomuch going on during each play for one guy to exert complete control over agame. But what Rodgers has done in the final six weeks of the regularseason and the first two games of the playoffs is as close as football getsto one player deciding that his bad team is going to be good now. Theselast eight games for the Packers have been the NFL’s version of erasing a3-1 series deficit, and that sideline pass to Cook was Rodgers’s version ofpinning Andre Iguodala’s layup to the backboard. The Packers’ season wasn’tsaved by ingenious play design, a smartly exploited matchup, or time spentin the film room. It was saved by Aaron Rodgers, out in space with ball inhis hands, playing like the baddest motherfucker in the schoolyard.