Game Review: Difficult Defeat Won't Deter Packers

DALLAS - To beat Dallas would have been valuable, both in terms of the NFC playoff picture and for the psyche of a young team playing in its first truly big game. But to lose, as the Packers did 37-27 at Texas Stadium on Thursday night, does not mean it’s time to concede anything. - More Audio | Video | Packers-Cowboys Game Center


QB Aaron Rodgers retrieves the ball used to throw his first NFL TD pass, to Greg Jennings on Thursday night in Dallas.

DALLAS - The Green Bay Packers spent the past week trying to keep their NFC showdown with the Dallas Cowboys in the proper perspective.

To win would have been valuable, both in terms of the NFC playoff picture and for the psyche of a young team playing in its first truly big game. But to lose, as the Packers did 37-27 at Texas Stadium on Thursday night, does not mean it's time to concede anything.

Not that anyone in the locker room was making excuses after the game, but to play the NFC front-runner without one of your top cover corners in Charles Woodson (toe injury), one of your top pass rushers in Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (ankle), and without your starting quarterback in Brett Favre (elbow, shoulder) for the final 2 1/2 quarters was certainly a tall order.

Yet the Packers hung in there, with backup quarterback Aaron Rodgers rallying the team from 17 points down to within three in the second half. The NFL is no place for moral victories, but the Packers didn't leave Dallas in the wee hours of Friday morning believing their chances of winning a potential playoff rematch with their longtime NFC rivals have been diminished, even if they may have to return to Texas in January.

"Do I think we can bet them? Yeah, I definitely think we can beat them," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "Even with all the mistakes, we were right there.

"We're not going to throw away the season because we lost this game. We have a lot of games to play."

The Packers, now 10-2, likely will need to win all four of those remaining contests to have a chance to leapfrog the 11-1 Cowboys for the top seed in the NFC and home field throughout the playoffs. Dallas will have to lose at least twice in its last four, because Thursday's result gives the Cowboys a tiebreaker should the two teams finish with the same record.

Dallas earned that edge by virtue of a solid performance in all phases. On offense, the Cowboys protected quarterback Tony Romo and allowed him to complete several long passes. He was 19-of-30 for 309 yards with four touchdowns, one interception and a 123.5 passer rating, doing most of his damage via Terrell Owens, who had seven catches for 156 yards.

"We were trying to get to him," defensive tackle Corey Williams said of Romo, who wasn't sacked. "But they were keeping a back in (to block) and a tight end, and it's hard when everybody across the front is getting doubled. It's hard on the guys on the back end because they have to hold on the receivers so long. It's something we have to get back in the classroom and get it corrected."

Meanwhile on defense, the Cowboys managed to knock Favre out of the game in the second quarter with elbow and shoulder injuries, though the early word is Favre should be fine and able to play in the Packers' next game. Dallas pressured both Favre and Rodgers consistently, and other than a 62-yard TD run by Ryan Grant (14 carries, 94 yards), didn't allow much on the ground to Green Bay.

Throw in Dallas' special teams, which returned three kickoffs beyond the 35-yard line, and it was a complete effort by the team in the driver's seat for the NFC's top seed.

At the same time it was a valiant though flawed performance by the Packers, who made lineup changes mid-game after falling behind big early. Cornerback Jarrett Bush was having trouble in coverage and was pulled in favor of Tramon Williams after a 40-yard pass interference penalty set up the Cowboys' third touchdown to make it 27-10 in the second quarter. Pass protection and other blocking problems also led to the lifting of left guard Daryn Colledge for Junius Coston, who took over at right guard with Jason Spitz switching from right to left guard.

"We're disappointed because this is an environment that we have not played in as a young football team," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought it was very important for us to come in and win this football game because we will be playing in a lot of championship atmospheres as we move forward. This is an opportunity that we need to learn from this because we did not play our best football tonight."

The Dallas offense was simply a machine in the first half, scoring the first five times it had the ball with three touchdowns and two field goals while facing third down only three times.

Two of the touchdowns were set up by interceptions of Favre by Ken Hamlin and Terrence Newman, the second of which coming on the play Favre got hurt.

Romo threw TD passes to receivers Patrick Crayton and Owens following the interceptions, and had another to tight end Anthony Fasano just moments after Grant's long TD run.

Owens was the toughest weapon for the Packers to handle, as he recorded six receptions for 147 yards in the first half alone.

With Rodgers at quarterback in place of Favre, the Packers battled back with touchdowns on their final possession of the second quarter and first possession of the third. An 11-yard score by Greg Jennings, the first TD pass of Rodgers' career, and a 1-yard plunge by Grant made it 27-24 late in the third quarter.

{sportsad300}Then came two huge momentum swings. With the Packers seemingly poised to stop the Cowboys, who faced third-and-19 on their own 11, Crayton found a big hole in the Packers' zone coverage and hauled in a 35-yard pass to get Dallas moving again.

The Cowboys eventually made it all the way inside the Green Bay 10, when the tide turned once again. Owens was open in the end zone, but Romo's passed bounced off his arms and up into the air, and Al Harris came up with the interception and touchback with 14:08 left in the fourth quarter.

The reprieve didn't last long, though, as the Packers punted less than two minutes later and the Cowboys drove 75 yards for a touchdown, with the help of a 42-yard pass interference penalty on Tramon Williams that put the ball on the Green Bay 5. Crayton's second TD catch of the game made it 34-24 with 7:51 left.

The Packers responded with a long field goal, choosing to bypass a fourth-and-inches at the Dallas 35 to make sure they got within one score again, but the Cowboys countered with a field goal drive of their own, helped by a 15-yard facemask penalty on Atari Bigby that gave the Packers 142 penalty yards on nine infractions for the night.

That game-clinching march consumed four of the final five minutes on the clock, and the Packers were left to summon that proper perspective again.

"Any loss is a big loss when your expectations are high," Harris said. "Are we disappointed? Yeah, we're very disappointed, but we're not going to stop grinding."

Nor stop believing.

"Big picture it's a loss, but it doesn't set us back," Jennings said. "We're still a confident ballclub. We still feel like we can beat the Dallas Cowboys, but today they were the better team."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content