Friday, January 9, 2015

Dallas vs. Green Bay in the Postseason

On Sunday, the Cowboys and Packers will square off in a matchup of two classic franchises at the site where they played one of the most storied games in NFL history. This will be the seventh time that Dallas has faced Green Bay in the postseason.

1966 NFL Championship

With a spot in the first Super Bowl on the line, the 10-3-1 Cowboys got to host the 12-2 defending-champion Packers at the Cotton Bowl thanks to the old East-West home-field rotation format.

Overshadowed by the legendary game the following year, this Dallas-Green Bay title game was a great one as well. The Pack raced out to an early lead when Elijah Pitts and Bart Starr teamed up for a 17-yard score on the opening drive. Mel Renfro fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Jim Grabowski returned it 18 yards for a quick 14-0 lead.

Don Meredith led the Cowboys on two scoring drives that tied the game by the end of the opening period. It's one of three NFL playoff games in which both sides scored 14+ in the first.

Starr's 51-yard bomb to Carroll Dale put Green Bay back in front, and still held the lead when Dallas could only settle for a couple of field goals. The Packers seemingly put the game away when Starr threw his third and fourth TDs of the day (16 yards to Boyd Dowler and 28 yards to Max McGee) for a 34-20 advantage in the fourth. On 3rd-and-20 at his own 32, Meredith hit Frank Clarke for a 68-yard long ball to cut the lead in half.

After a quick stop and Don Chandler's shank of a 16-yard punt, the Cowboys were set up at the Green Bay 47 for their bid to tie the game. Meredith connected with Clarke again for 21 yards before a 4-yard run and a pass interference call gave Dallas 1st-and-goal at the 2-yard line with less than two minutes to play.

Dan Reeves ran for one yard on first down, but an illegal motion penalty moved the Cowboys back for the next play. Meredith's pass to Reeves was incomplete, but the next one to Pettis Norman gained four yards to set up 4th-and-goal from two yards out.

Dave Robinson put the pressure on Meredith, who was forced to flip up a prayer to the end zone. Tom Brown picked it off to complete the goal-line stand and send Green Bay to Super Bowl I in Los Angeles, where they routed the Chiefs, 35-10.

1967 NFL Championship

The Ice Bowl. The championship stakes, a kickoff temperature of 13-below and a frantic finish made this one of the most legendary games in the history of American sport. Author David Maraniss, who wrote an excellent biography of Vince Lombardi, recounted the day on Twitter this morning. This NFL clip has great video and stories from those who participated and covered the game.

Neither offense could get much going in these conditions, but two Starr-to-Dowler touchdowns gave the hosts a 14-0 lead in the second quarter. But Willie Townes' sack/fumble on Starr resulted in George Andrie's 7-yard return that put Dallas on the scoreboard. A muffed punt led to a Cowboys field goal that made it 14-10 at the break.

There was no scoring in the third quarter, but Dallas took the lead on the first play of the fourth with a Dan Reeves 50-yard halfback-option pass to Lance Rentzel. The visitors still led 17-14 with 4:54 remaining when Starr and the Packers took over at their own 32.

Starr-to-Donny Anderson for six yards. Chuck Mercein ran for seven more. A 13-yard pass to Dowler across midfield. Starr marched the Packers down the field until they faced 3rd-and-goal inside the 1-yard line with 16 seconds left. With no time outs, Vince Lombardi eschewed a tying field-goal attempt for one more shot at the end zone, risking a loss if he couldn't get the kicking unit onto the field for fourth down.

Starr took the snap and snuck over the goal line thanks to Jerry Kramer's block of Jethro Pugh, winning the game for the Packers, 21-17. The Lombardi Era came to a close in Super Bowl II with a 33-14 win over the Raiders.

1982 Divisional

1982 was a weird year in the NFL**. A strike limited the season to only nine games, leading to a slew of 5-4 teams in the eight-team NFC playoff bracket. Green Bay ended a ten-year postseason drought by winning the Central Division at 5-3-1. Dallas went 6-3, two games behind Washington in the East, but the league simply seeded teams by record regardless of division that year, putting the Cowboys in the two spot.

** So weird that the league MVP was Washington kicker Mark Moseley

The Cowboys and Packers were both home for their first-round games and won easily to set up a divisional round meeting at Texas Stadium. Green Bay couldn't even total positive yardage into the second quarter, but Lynn Dickey led a TD drive that ended with his 6-yard pass to James Lofton. Dallas answered with a touchdown and added a Dennis Thurman pick-six for a 20-7 halftime lead.

The Pack trailed by ten in the final period, but Lofton broke a 71-yard touchdown run on a reverse made it 23-19. Dallas came back with a score of their own but Green Bay refused to go down, with Mark Lee's pick-six of Danny White trimming the lead to 30-26**.

** This was the first of four NFL playoff games in which both teams had an interception return touchdown:

Rk Tm Year Date Time LTime Opp Day Result IR OppIR
1 DAL 1982 1983-01-16 4:00 3:00 GNB Sun W 37-26 1 1
2 MIN 1987 1988-01-09 4:00 1:00 @ SFO Sat W 36-24 1 1
3 GNB 1993 1994-01-08 4:00 4:00 @ DET Sat W 28-24 1 1
4 JAX 1996 1996-12-28 12:30 12:30 @ BUF Sat W 30-27 1 1
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/7/2015.

The Cowboys still clung to that lead midway through the fourth, but they iced the game with a trick play. From the 50, White tossed a lateral across the field to receiver Drew Pearson, who bombed it to Tony Hill, who secured the catch at the Green Bay 1-yard line. Later, Robert Newhouse dove in for the touchdown for a two-possession lead. Thurman intercepted Dickey a third time to close out a 37-26 Cowboys win.

Six days later in the nation's capital, the Cowboys fell to rival Washington 31-17 in the NFC Championship game. Dallas wouldn't reach the final four for ten more years.

1993 Divisional

The Cowboys won the Super Bowl in 1992 and ran up a 12-4 record to secure the NFC's top seed in '93. The Packers snuck into the playoffs at 9-7 and pulled out a last-minute wild card win in Detroit to advance.

A 13 1/2-point favorite, Dallas let Green Bay hang around in the first half and only led 7-3 late in the second quarter. An Eddie Murray field goal with 23 seconds left made it 10-3, but Corey Harris fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Joe Fishback recovered for Dallas at the 14. Troy Aikman hit Michael Irvin for eight yards, then Jay Novacek for a 6-yard touchdown and the Cowboys suddenly went into the locker room ahead 17-3.

Aikman connected with Irvin for a 19-yard touchdown in the third for a 24-3 lead, and although Brett Favre threw touchdown passes to Robert Brooks and Sterling Sharpe, interceptions to Charles Haley and Darren Woodson proved too much. The Cowboys hung on to win 27-17 en route to making it back-to-back Super Bowl victories.

1994 Divisional

It was a familiar setup a year later as another Packers wild card win over the Lions sent them to Dallas for another divisional playoff game against a rested Cowboys squad. The favored Cowboys burst out of the gate with an Emmitt Smith touchdown. Although Smith went down with an injury later in the first, Dallas kept it going with Aikman's 94-yard touchdown pass to Alvin Harper, the longest in NFL playoff history. A 53-yard pass to Irvin and a 22-yard pass to Novacek set up a 1-yard score for Smith's replacement, Blair Thomas, and it was 21-3 Cowboys.

Favre pushed the Pack into the end zone, but Aikman ended the first half with a 1-yard TD pass to Scott Galbraith for a 28-9 lead. That score held until the fourth when Thomas ran in another short touchdown for what would be the final points of the game. It was a 35-9 thrashing as Irvin, Harper and Novacek all topped 100 receiving yards. However, the bid for three straight Super Bowl titles ended a week later, when the Cowboys lost the NFC title game in San Francisco, 38-28.

1995 NFC Championship

The Packers finally got out of the divisional round with a road win over the 49ers, but the top-seeded, thorn-in-their-side Cowboys were waiting for them in the NFC Championship Game.

The first quarter featured two Aikman-to-Irvin touchdowns and a 73-yard strike from Favre to Brooks as the Cowboys led 14-10. A 24-yard Favre-to-Keith Jackson touchdown on the second play of the second quarter pushed Green Bay in front, but Dallas tied it before closing the half with a 99-yard drive that ended with Smith's 1-yard run for a 24-17 lead.

Favre kept bringing the Packers back, though. A field goal and a 1-yard TD pass to Brooks gave visiting Green Bay another lead and they actually entered the fourth quarter on top. But the relentless Cowboys embarked on a 14-play, 90-yard drive, with Smith's 5-yard run putting Dallas the lead once more, 31-27. Larry Brown picked off Favre to thwart one last comeback attempt, and Smith iced it with his third touchdown run of the game.

Dallas won 38-27 to advance to Super Bowl XXX, where they'd beat the Steelers for their third title in four years. The Packers are one of three teams to get knocked out of the playoffs by the same team three years in a row:

Cowboys over 49ers 1970-72
1970 NFC Champ - DAL at SF 17-10 Cowboys
1971 NFC Champ - SF at DAL 14-3 Cowboys
1972 Divisional - DAL at SF 30-28 Cowboys

Cowboys over Packers 1993-95
1993 Divisional - GB (6) at DAL (1) 27-17 Cowboys
1994 Divisional - GB (4) at DAL (2) 35-9 Cowboys
1995 NFC Champ - GB (3) at DAL (1) 38-27 Cowboys 

Packers over 49ers 1995-98
1995 Divisional - GB (3) at SF (2) 27-17 Packers
1996 Divisional - SF (4) at GB (1) 35-14 Packers
1997 NFC Champ - GB (2) at SF (1) 23-10 Packers

As for the other NFC divisional game, Saturday night's Panthers-Seahawks game will be the second Charlotte-Seattle playoff game. In 2005, the Seahawks earned the first Super Bowl berth in franchise history with a 34-14 rout of the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game.

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