Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers vs Tony Romo: Battle of elite QBs (+video)
Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo and Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers were the two highest-rated quarterbacks in the NFL this season. The NFC playoff game is Sunday at 1:05 pm at Green Bay.
Still, the hunger is growing for Rodgers heading into Sunday's divisional playoff because Green Bay hasn't reached the NFC championship game since winning it all four years ago on Romo's home field. And Romo has never even been that far.
"You realize very quickly, it's so difficult to do that," Rodgers said. "A lot of things have to come together. We've come up short the last couple of years and it just kind of fuels the fire a little bit more."
Romo knows about coming up short.
There was his infamous flub of the hold on a field goal that could have beaten Seattle in a wild-card game eight years ago, then a loss to New York as the No. 1 seed in the NFC a year later when the Giants went on to beat undefeated New England in the Super Bowl.
The past three seasons ended with losses that left the Cowboys at 8-8 and out of the playoffs. Now here's Romo returning to the state where he grew up a fan of Brett Favre, trying to get past this round of the playoffs in his third try in Dallas' first postseason trip to storied Lambeau Field since the Ice Bowl loss 47 years ago.
"I'd love to give you a headline, but it's really just another week in the preparation side of it," said Romo, who signed with the Cowboys in 2003 as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois. "I know it'll be fun for my family and friends and that stuff. But for me, it's a playoff game and you've got to play your best."
These were the two highest-rated quarterbacks in the NFL this season. Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception at home in more than two years, while Romo had 20 touchdown passes and two interceptions in leading Dallas (13-4) to an 8-0 road record.
Whether it plays out as a battle of elite quarterbacks remains to be seen. First, the temperature at kickoff likely will be in the teens. Second, Rodgers is playing through a calf strain that limited him in practice all week even though the Packers (12-4) had a bye after beating the Lions.
Rodgers was listed as probable Friday after declaring earlier in the week he would start despite an injury sustained three weeks ago against Tampa Bay and aggravated in the regular-season finale against Detroit.
"I think the fact he went through the opportunity Tampa, Detroit where he had to play through the situation where you had to be smart in the pocket, he has that experience," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He looks like he's moving fine to me right now. We're not going to change anything or our approach of how we want to attack Dallas' defense."
Romo's health was the talk of the preseason with the 34-year-old coming off back surgery. He sustained an unrelated back injury on a sack in a loss to Washington and looked ragged playing on short rest in another loss to Philadelphia.
Otherwise, he put together one of his best seasons after declaring in training camp that fans would see "the best version of me" — a statement that surprised Troy Aikman, the three-time Super Bowl winner who had back surgery early in his Dallas career.
Besides Romo's back issue, Aikman figured a weak Dallas defense would be a problem. But the defense has been better, and the Cowboys helped Romo with a more balanced attack featuring NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray.
"If you're playing from behind and you're constantly having to throw the ball and you're getting hit and you've got the back, I thought it would be a challenge, not because he didn't still have the talent," Aikman said. "A lot of things have happened. Those parts of it have helped. But yeah, it's been sensational."
Romo put aside years of frustration with his first playoff rally in the 24-20 wild-card win over Detroit last weekend, throwing the go-ahead touchdown to Terrance Williams late in the fourth quarter.
For his biggest playoff breakthrough yet, Romo will have to get Dallas' first road win in the postseason since Aikman beat the 49ers 22 years ago on the way to the first of three Super Bowl titles in four years.
"I know in my visits with him that he is deliberately focusing in on the moment, the play, the execution, how well he can play, what our game plan is, what our plans are to compete and win the game," owner Jerry Jones said. "I don't think one time he's alluded to verbally or implied, 'Boy, I've got to go get my playoff win.'"
It goes without saying for Romo and Rodgers.
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