The Latest: Packers open 2nd half leading 21-13

The Latest on the NFL's divisional playoffs Sunday. (all times Eastern):

6:20 p.m.

The Green Bay Packers lead the Cowboys 21-13 at halftime.

Dallas was facing its largest deficit of the season halfway through the second quarter before scoring 10 points on its last two drives.

Green Bay will get the ball to start the second half.

Aaron Rodgers is 15 of 24 passing for 191 yards with a touchdown. Ty Montgomery has only four carries for 26 yards, but also has his first two rushing touchdowns ever in the postseason .

Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott is 10-of-18 for 147 yards with a 40-yard TD to Dez Bryant.

Ezekiel Elliott, the other standout rookie in the Dallas backfield, has 10 carries for 44 yards.

- Stephen Hawkins reported from Arlington, Texas.

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5:50 p.m.

The Dallas Cowboys faced their largest deficit of the season halfway through the second quarter of their first NFC Divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium.

Ty Montgomery's 1-yard TD put Green Bay up 21-3 with 7:37 left in the first half.

The Cowboys answered with a 75-yard drive that took about 90 seconds and cut the lead to 21-10.

- Stephen Hawkins reported from Arlington, Texas

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5:30 p.m.

Green Bay running back Ty Montgomery, a converted receiver, has a rushing touchdown near his old hometown, and the Packers have a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter on the Dallas Cowboys, the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Montgomery on a 3-yard run for his first career postseason touchdown. He was a receiver, running back, quarterback, cornerback and safety at St. Mark's High School in Dallas. He was drafted as a receiver, but the Packers figured they could use his versatility.

Montgomery had 25 yards on three carries early.

- Schuyler Dixon reported from Arlington, Texas

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5:05 p.m.

That was a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty you don't see very often.

The Dallas Cowboys had a first down wiped out by the penalty against receiver Brice Butler, who wasn't even part of the play. And that was actually the issue.

Referee Tony Corrente threw the flag immediately after the snap. After Terrance Williams made a catch the referee announced that Butler was penalized for going into the offensive huddle and then leaving the field.

There was even more confusion when the penalty was initially marked off only 5 yards.

After Packers coach Mike McCarthy pointed it out, Corrente announced the correction and the ball was moved back another 10 yards.

The Cowboys punted soon after that.

- Stephen Hawkins reported from Arlington, Texas

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4:55 p.m.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers got a free play when the Dallas Cowboys jumped offside, and he made it count.

With flags on the field, Rodgers threw deep - and a 34-yard touchdown pass to tight end Richard Rodgers . That ended the Packers opening drive, putting them up 7-3 and quieting momentarily the raucous sellout crowd attending the first NFC Divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium.

Dallas had the ball first and went ahead 3-0 on Dan Bailey's 50-yard field goal.

- Stephen Hawkins reported from Arlington, Texas

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4:35 p.m.

The Dallas Cowboys have long had the moniker of ''America's Team'' - and their legion of fans includes plenty of famous folks.

Several celebrities provided ''Go Cowboys!'' messages as part of a video that was shown on the large video screen that hangs over the field at AT&T Stadium during pregame activities.

Among those in the clip were Kanye West with the Kardashians, actress Kate Bosworth, All-Star guard Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher and Dallas-area native Clayton Kershaw and WWE wrestler Sting.

The final person was Papa John - yes, the man who makes pizzas and is a huge Cowboys fan. He turned to show the Cowboys star on the back of his shirt and said ''Finish this Fight!'' - a hashtag that has become prominent for the team heading into the playoffs.

- Stephen Hawkins reported from Arlington, Texas

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4:20 p.m.

The severe ice storm projected for the Kansas City area turned out relatively tame.

By the time the NFC game kicked off in Dallas, about when the AFC matchup of the Steelers at the Chiefs would have been ending, it was 33 degrees at Arrowhead Stadium. The rain was coming down, though not by any means torrentially, and ice was not an issue.

The game was moved from 1:05 p.m. Eastern to 7:20 p.m. so fans could avoid the worst of the expected ice.

Indeed, the parking lots were rapidly filling up and tailgating was in full swing.

A gray tarp covered the field inside the stadium, with hot air being pumped under the tarp to keep the turf warm. The Chiefs resodded the field earlier this week.

- Barry Wilner reported from Kansas City

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3:55 p.m.

There should be good vibes at AT&T Stadium for Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and NFL rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott of Dallas.

The divisional playoff game between the Packers and Cowboys is Rodgers' first game in the $1.2 billion retractable roof stadium since winning the title as Super Bowl MVP in a 31-25 victory over Pittsburgh to conclude the 2010 season.

Rodgers, who has thrown 19 touchdown passes without an interception during a seven-game winning streak, had 304 yards passing with three TDs and no picks against the Steelers.

Elliott became a national name when he rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns at his future home, leading Ohio State to the first College Football Playoff championship in a 42-20 victory over Oregon two years ago.

The Cowboys drafted Elliott fourth overall a year later, and he led the NFL with 1,631 yards rushing despite sitting the regular-season finale with the Cowboys already assured of the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

It's the first divisional game at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys last hosted this round in 2007 at Texas Stadium, two years before owner Jerry Jones' showplace opened.

- Schuyler Dixon reported from Arlington, Texas

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3:25 p.m.

Old playoff foes are set to meet again with the Green Bay Packers visiting the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys in an NFC divisional game.

It's the eighth meeting - tied for the most against any opponent for both franchises. The Cowboys faced the Los Angeles Rams eight times in a span of 13 seasons from 1973-85. Green Bay just had its eighth playoff game against the New York Giants, a 38-13 win last weekend.

The Packers won the most recent meeting, 26-21 in the divisional round two years ago in a game made famous by Dallas receiver Dez Bryant's catch that wasn't .

Dallas coach Jason Garrett was quarterback Troy Aikman's backup when the Cowboys beat the Packers three straight years in the playoffs while winning two Super Bowls from 1993-95.

The Cowboys have a 4-3 series lead in the playoffs. The overall series is tied at 17-all.

- Schuyler Dixon reported from Arlington, Texas

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3:15 p.m.

NFL's Sunday divisional playoffs are about to get started, just a few hours later than expected.

With the Steelers game at Kansas City moved to a night start - 8:20 p.m. Eastern instead of 1:05 p.m. - because of an ice storm, the Packers game at the Dallas Cowboys became the opening act.

This is just the latest chapter in a great rivalry that includes the famous 1967 Ice Bowl, when the temperature at Lambeau Field was 15 below zero.

The weather will be much better in Arlington, Texas, where it is about 52 degrees.

Green Bay Packers running back Ty Montgomery (88) dives into the end zone for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)


The Art of the Hail Mary: Why Rodgers is so successful with NFL's most improbable play

A crowd of reporters marches into the Packers locker room on Wednesday, armed with notepads, microphones and recorders. Most settle around the locker of Aaron Rodgers, the Packers’ cerebral quarterback, and while the questions vary slightly, one topic dominates all others.

It’s not the Dallas Cowboys, who host Green Bay in a divisional playoff game this Sunday, their rookie quarterback sensation Dak Prescott, or even the Packers’ seven-game win streak.

Instead, the questions revolve around a play that ranks among the most thrilling in sports and the most unlikely in football: A last-gasp, desperation heave thrown into a crowded end zone where the chance of conversion is so improbable the successful version is named after a prayer. The topic du jour is the Hail Mary, and how the Packers have completed three of them under Rodgers in a span of 402 days—a rate (60%) that is higher than overall completion percentage for some NFL quarterbacks.

Rodgers last made the impossible look easy the previous weekend, with a 42-yard Hail Mary he snuck beyond a pack of Giants defenders to wideout Randall Cobb in the final seconds of the first half. The most outrageous thing wasn’t that the play worked as Green Bay had intended, even if the odds involved there fall somewhere between winning the lottery and dating a swimsuit model. The striking thing was that Rodgers and the Packers had pulled that play off again.

After the crowd dispersed, Rodgers leaned back in his locker, and I asked him if he knew how the football term “Hail Mary” came to be. “Oh, yeah,” he says, eyes widening. “Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson. What a throw. I used to watch highlights like that on old VHS tapes.”

Rodgers, a football historian and Celebrity Jeopardy! champion, is right, of course. Staubach, then the Cowboys’ quarterback, did connect with Pearson for a game-winning score in the 1975 playoffs, and he did tell a reporter afterward that he had closed his eyes and “said a Hail Mary” before he launched. He meant the prayer, as in, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”

Sometimes, Staubach wonders how history would be different if he hadn’t looked off the safety, or thrown the perfect pass, or if he had told the reporter he said Our Father or Glory Be. Maybe, he suggests, we’d call those glorious passes “bombs” or “alley-oops.” Perhaps the phrase “Hail Mary” would only be said in church, rather than by thrown around by football pundits, and it wouldn’t be used by long shots everywhere for everything from business dealings to first dates.

Now, the Hail Mary is the football version of so you’re saying there’s a chance, the play that changes everything, the ultimate flipped script. That remains true outside of sports. Just last week, Staubach had a meeting at his commercial real estate company, JLL, and one of his employees said that to land a New York real estate deal would “probably take a Hail Mary to pull off.” Staubach just looked at him thinking, dude???

“I think it’s time to pass the mantle, anyway,” says Staubach, who will be at AT&T Stadium on Sunday for a potential Hail Mary Handoff.

He laughs and says, “Aaron Rodgers is Mr. Hail Mary now.”

Not every long pass is a Hail Mary. Informal rules mandate certain qualifications. Rule 1: the throw must be long; ideally tossed from around midfield, definitely more than 40 yards. Rule 2: the throwing team must be behind. Rule 3: the game must be close; ideally the pass would tie or win. And Rule 4: there must be little time remaining; preferably in the game, or, less so, in the half.

All truly famous Hail Marys fit within those guidelines. Like Doug Flutie’s desperation hurl for Boston College to beat Miami in 1984. Or Kordell Stewart’s late chuck to Michael Westbrook to devastate Michigan ten years later. There was even a so-called Fail Mary in Seattle in 2012. Naturally, the Packers were involved, and they thought (quite reasonably) they had defended a miracle touchdown only for the referee to rule that Seahawks receiver Golden Tate had simultaneous possession, which meant he scored the winning points.

Think about those plays: The euphoria; the torn-down goalposts; the defenders slumped to the ground, their will shattered; the near-certain-loss-turned-into-immediate-shocking-triumph; the way BC fans know exactly where they watched the Hail Flutie. Then make an argument that the Hail Mary, when successful, isn’t the most spectacular play in sports. You can’t. Walk-off home runs? Please. Those happen more frequently and those at-bats can end in any number of outcomes. Even attempted Hail Marys happen rarely, and every time, they are epic or forgotten. There are significantly fewer triumphant Hail Marys than U.S. presidents.

Then think about how many teams or players appear more than once on the list of famous Hail Marys. There’s just one player, Rodgers, and just one team, his. There was the 61-yard bomb to tight end Richard Rodgers in Dec. 2015 that beat the Lions and won an ESPY for Play of the Year. (In his acceptance speech, Rodgers the tight end thanked God because, “if it weren’t for God there wouldn’t be any Hail Marys.”) Then there was the 41-yard fling from Rodgers to wideout Jeff Janis that tied a playoff game last season against the Cardinals. (The Packers lost in overtime.) Then there was the one last Sunday.

Two times could still be considered a fluke. But three? The Packers do this kind of thing so often that a 10-year-old boy in Jacksonville, Fla., filled out a form before their Giants game on which he answered “if I come to the game I would like to see” with “a Hail Mary.”

Think about that. Even 10-year-olds know the Packers convert the most dubious play in football often enough that it’s possible in every game they’ll find late magic once again. There’s more to that than at first glance. The Hail Mary might look random. It might seem chaotic.

But for the Packers, and for Rodgers especially, it’s not.


Packers vs. Cowboys 2017 live updates: Scores, highlights, and news from NFL playoffs

Scoring updates
Third quarter (11:29): Packers 28, Cowboys 13

The Packers’ first drive of the second half was basically impossible Aaron Rodgers throw after impossible throw. Jared Cook caught the 3-yard touchdown to put Green Bay up by double digits again.

Halftime: Packers 21, Cowboys 13

Dallas defense finally got a stop and the Cowboys started moving the ball again. Dak Prescott converted on a couple of key third downs, and Cole Beasley even got upended on one of them.

They settled for a field goal to make it a one-score game again with a minute left in the half.

Second quarter (6:03): Packers 21, Cowboys 10

Now there’s the Cowboys’ offense. They answered Green Bay’s touchdown in quick fashion. Dez Bryant scored his first playoff touchdown with a perfect 40-yard strike from Dak Prescott.

Second quarter (8:14): Packers 21, Cowboys 3

Three drives, three touchdowns for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense. Ty Montgomery ran in his second score of the day. This is Dallas’ biggest deficit of the entire season.

The Cowboys stopped them on a third down earlier in the drive, but just to show how this game is going, the Packers got a first down when Morris Claiborne was flagged for illegal use of the hands.

Second quarter (14:18): Packers 14, Cowboys 3

Ty Montgomery added to Green Bay’s lead with a 3-yard rushing touchdown, completing a 13-play, 90-yard drive.

First quarter: Packers 7, Cowboys 3

The Cowboys are killing themselves with dumb penalties. Brice Butler was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for running out of the huddle and then running back in, without participating in the play. It cost the Cowboys 37 yards.

The Packers got the ball back soon after, and Aaron Rodgers has been surgical, converting three straight third downs to get them in the red zone.

First quarter (8:58): Packers 7, Cowboys 3

Aaron Rodgers is a master of the free play. First, he caught the Cowboys sleeping on third down and they got penalized for 12 men on the field, giving the Packers a first down. Then, he saw he had a free play after Dallas jumped offsides. He found Richard Rodgers for a 34-yard score, and the lead.

First quarter (11:28): Cowboys 3, Packers 0

The Cowboys got on the board first thanks to a 50-yard field goal from Dan Bailey. Dallas moved down the field pretty well, mixing in Ezekiel Elliott runs and short throws from Dak Prescott to Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley. However, the drive stalled and the Cowboys settled for three.

Before the game
The Cowboys beat the Packers back in Week 6, but that was before Aaron Rodgers put on his Superman pajamas. Can the two-time NFL MVP lead Green Bay back to the NFC Championship by upsetting Dallas in the Lone Star State?

The Packers dropped a 30-16 decision back in October after they fell behind at the half and never really had an opportunity to fight back. Rodgers was effective, throwing for 294 yards, but threw only a single touchdown pass and added an interception as Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott stole the spotlight in Green Bay.

That kind of performance would prove to be a major disappointment given his recent resurgence. Rodgers has emerged as one of the leading MVP candidates after torching the rest of the league for 24 touchdowns without an interception and lifting the Packers from a 4-6 record to the NFC North title. He lit up the Giants for 362 yards and four touchdowns in the Wild Card round to keep Green Bay’s season alive.

He may be able to have similar success Sunday against a Dallas secondary that hasn’t been especially impressive. The Cowboys rank 31st in the league when it comes to opposing quarterback completion percentage and 24th in terms of opponent’s passer rating. With Randall Cobb and Davante Adams leveling up in the postseason, Green Bay is built to win a shootout.

But so is Dallas. The Cowboys boast one of the league’s most explosive offenses behind its two rookie sensations — Prescott and Elliott — and old standbys like Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. The team ranks fifth in the league in scoring offense (26.3 points per game), fourth in yards per play (6.0), and second in rushing yards per game (149.8).

Their mastery in that latter category is thanks to Elliott, who will come into Sunday’s game well-rested. The No. 4 overall pick sat out the team’s Week 17 loss to the Eagles and still managed to gain more than 1,600 yards this season. He’s had three weeks to prepare for the playoffs, and he’ll hit the Packer defense at full strength.

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