Just believe, man. Just believe.
Josh Sitton was done. Done believing. Done hoping. Just … done.
The Green Bay Packers veteran guard knew he and his teammates had fought the good fight. He was proud of how they hadn’t quit in the face of a 23-point halftime deficit, how they’d battled back, shown some character, given the Dallas Cowboys all they could handle in the second half. But now, well, this was just too much.
The AT&T Stadium clock showed 7 minutes 55 seconds remained, and the once-stunning rally seemed dead. Sitton and his teammates had just watched Tramon Williams’ interception get overturned upon replay review – a play that would have given them the ball at the Dallas 8-yard line. Instead, the Cowboys had converted the ensuing third down – thanks to a Mike Neal offsides call that was almost as suspect as the reversal of Williams’ INT – and marched 80 yards for yet another touchdown. Rather than being on the verge of taking the lead, the Packers were back down by 12.
And so there Sitton sat, on the Packers’ bench, realistic and resigned. Until quarterback Matt Flynn happened by.
“I was a little down in the dumps after that,” Sitton confessed afterward. “But Flynn came up to me and said, ‘Just believe, man. Just believe.’ And I said” – Sitton paused here, for dramatic effect – “ ‘Hell yeah! Let’s do it.’”
And then, they did it. In the same building where they won Super Bowl XLV three years ago, the Packers pulled off a 37-36 victory that was more miraculous. Maybe not as meaningful – we’ll have to wait and see on that – but given that the 23-point halftime deficit they overcame tied the biggest comeback in team history, matching a 35-23 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in the 1982 season opener, it might’ve been more improbable than the six-game winning streak they went on en route to the franchise’s 13th NFL title..
“It kind of felt the same. Which was kind of cool,” kicker Mason Crosby said, comparing Sunday to the Super Bowl. “Then you have to take a step back and say, ‘All right, this wasn’t the Super Bowl. We have to keep working.’ But for that moment, it was a big moment. Awesome, awesome to come back and win like that.”
Added wide receiver Jordy Nelson: “This one was great, obviously. This could lead to something that could be like that. It’s given us an opportunity to get to our ultimate goal. It’s been a crazy season, but we still have an opportunity. We just have to continue to play good football.
“Even in the second half, there were ups and downs. We thought Tramon had a pick and we had the ball at the 8-yard line, and we’re jacked. Then they overturn that and go down and score, and it’s like, ‘Man, we just can’t catch a break.’
“But you have to keep playing. Crazy things can happen in this league – and they did. You just have to give yourself a shot.”
And now, the Packers have done just that. With their second victory in as many weeks – their only two triumphs since starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered that fractured left collarbone on Nov. 4 – they now sit at 7-6-1 with two games to play. They remain a half-game back of NFC North-leading Chicago (8-6), but with the Bears, they control their own destiny. Beat Pittsburgh next Sunday and then beat the Bears at Soldier Field on Dec. 29, and they’ll finish a half-game ahead of Chicago. The Packers will need help to finish ahead of the Detroit Lions, of course; Detroit enters its Monday Night Football game with Baltimore at 7-6, meaning the Lions must lose one more time to give the Packers the opening they need.
Just believe, man. Just believe.
“I don’t think any of us can explain the feeling we have right now,” said Flynn, who finished the game having completed 26 of 39 passes for 299 yards with four touchdowns and one interception (113.1 rating). “What a feeling. We were taking knees at the end and we were like, ‘Is this real? Is this happening?’
“We fought so hard. Playing so bad in the first half, coming out in the second half and playing like we did offensively and defensively, I think says a lot about this team.”
And the Packers were bad in the first half. The defense allowed an astronomical 332 total yards and 17 first downs, and Dallas scored on six of its seven first-half possessions. That the Cowboys (7-7) settled for four field goals to go along with their two touchdowns was actually an accomplishment.
“We couldn’t stop them on defense. They did it pretty much running it, throwing it. They had over 300 yards at halftime,” veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said, shaking his head. “We didn’t weather the storm, but we took their best punch, and we just knew if we could just get some stops that our offense would get rolling. Coming back out, even though it looked bleak, we always believed.”
Offensively, Flynn was by his own admission awful (10 of 17, 117 yards, one interception, two sacks), running back Eddie Lacy had very little room to run (eight carries, 31 yards) and the sure-handed Nelson even dropped a pass. Of their 132 net yards, 39 came on a completion to James Jones that set up their only points (a 57-yard Crosby field goal) and 34 came on an empty-yardage catch-and-run by Lacy.
“I played pretty poor in the first half. I couldn’t really get in a rhythm,” said Flynn, who would be near-perfect in the second half (16 of 22, 182 yards, four TDs, 136.7 rating). “That first half, I was still sticking on my first one or two guys too long, waiting for them to get open. That’s what you saw on the pick.
“We were pretty frustrated. We knew that there was a chance that we could do it, but I think more of the conversation at halftime was, ‘Let’s be men right now. Let’s be men. Let’s show what we’re made of, show our pride, go out there and execute the way we know how to.’ Something was said about winning, but we told each other that we had to look down deep and dig ourselves out of the hole from that first half playing so bad.”
Just believe, man. Just believe.
At halftime, coach Mike McCarthy told his players that they were facing “the biggest adversity situation that we’ve been in in our time together” and that “our season’s on the line,” it was the words of injured defensive end Johnny Jolly and backup inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore that had the greatest impact.
“Jolly had a lot to say. He was talking about how, ‘Just keep playing, keep fighting.’ And actually Jamari Lattimore really spoke from the heart, got real emotional,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “I think the guys really felt them on that.”
Talking was one thing; making a play to get things started was another. And that’s precisely what Lacy did on the first snap from scrimmage of the third quarter, exploding off left tackle for a 60-yard gain. Three plays later, Nelson went up over backup cornerback Orlando Scandrick to snare a 13-yard touchdown pass from Flynn that made it 26-10.
It would be the first of five touchdowns on five straight possessions against a reeling Dallas defense that had given up scores on all eight of the Bears’ meaningful possessions during a blowout loss at Soldier Field on Monday night.