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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers didn’t say a word at first. He simply raised both hands, palms facing out, to shoulder level.

That was the Green Bay Packers quarterback’s answer for how he managed to hold on to the football at a crucial point in the NFC divisional playoff game Sunday, when Dallas Cowboys safety Jeff Heath drilled him from behind for a jarring, 10-yard sack.

Aaron Rodgers’ reaction when asked how he held on to the football when Cowboys S Jeff Heath drilled him from behind on Sunday.

Rodgers then nodded his head affirmatively and said: “Size matters.”

End of explanation.

But oh, how it could have changed things. If Heath had managed to pry the ball loose, perhaps Rodgers would not have been standing in the Lambeau Field media auditorium in front of an NFC Championship Game banner to discuss Sunday’s meeting with the Atlanta Falcons.

A fumble there might have ended the Packers’ season. The sack came with 18 seconds left in a tie game and put the Packers back at their own 32-yard line. Instead, Rodgers popped up and immediately called a timeout. Two plays later, he hit Jared Cook for that improvised, 36-yard completion with 3 seconds left to set up Mason Crosby’s winning field goal.

“It was a big hit,” Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “Obviously, we don’t want that to happen, but in a negative play, he was able to make a play. That’s big.”

Just ask Packers pass-rusher Julius Peppers, who tries to knock the ball away from quarterbacks for a living.

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“That was a huge play because if the ball comes out right there, that’s probably the game for them because they’re already in field goal range,” Peppers said. “I think when he absorbed that hit and held onto the ball, that was just a great, instinctive play that probably saved the game for us.”

There was a time in Rodgers’ career when he almost never fumbled. From 2010-13, he fumbled just 17 times and lost only five. In his first MVP season of 2011, he fumbled only four times and lost none. This season, however, he fumbled eight times and lost four – the same totals as the 2014 season. His career high for fumbles in a season is 10 (in 2008, 2009 and 2014).

After he fumbled three times (and lost one) in the Week 2 loss at Minnesota and twice (and lost one) in the Week 6 loss to the Cowboys, Rodgers began running through the ball-security drills at practice. Rodgers hasn’t fumbled since Dec. 4 against the Houston Texans, and that came on a quarterback-center exchange.

“That was definitely a conscious effort,” Rodgers said recently. “I mean, if you guys saw me at practice in some of those middle weeks, I was going through the gauntlet because I was working on my ball security. I’ve always been fairly conscious in the pocket of really trying to keep two hands on the ball.”

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He couldn’t keep both hands on the ball when Health nailed him on a blindside blitz. The force of Heath’s hit knocked Rodgers’ left hand off the ball. Still, Rodgers managed to palm the football with his right hand and pull it to his chest as he went down.

“His grip strength has got to be fantastic,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “I totally thought the same thing. During the game, I said, ‘That’s amazing that the ball did not come out.’”

Rodgers never mentioned his actual hand size, but they were measured at 10⅛ inches at the 2005 NFL combine before he was drafted. Anything over 9½ inches is considered above average for a quarterback. Rodgers’ hands measured considerably larger than the other two quarterbacks – Alex Smith (9⅜ inches) and Jason Campbell (9⅛ inches) – drafted in the first round that year.

“I saw the highlight of [Heath’s sack]; I don’t know how he held onto the ball, either,” Packers receiver Randall Cobb said. “My hands are not as big as his, but they’re not baby hands.”

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