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Game Review: Packers Grab Much-Needed Victory

In many respects the season was on the line for the Packers on Sunday. Having dropped two straight games to fall to .500, and facing NFC East-leading Dallas on a four-game winning streak, the Packers needed a win for a variety of reasons -- to stymie a potential free-fall, to stay in the thick of the NFC Wild Card chase, and to prove they could beat a playoff contender. - More Packers-Cowboys Game Center

In many respects the season was on the line for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Having dropped two straight games to fall to .500, and facing NFC East-leading Dallas on a four-game winning streak, the Packers needed a win for a variety of reasons -- to stymie a potential free-fall, to stay in the thick of the NFC Wild Card chase, and to prove they could beat a playoff contender, which they hadn't done since Week 1.

Behind a stellar defensive performance and a dynamite, clock-eating touchdown drive in the second half, the Packers accomplished all of the above in an impressive 17-7 victory at Lambeau Field in front of 70,894 and a national television audience.

"It was an important time in our season to get back in this race," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "I think a lot of people were thinking this was going to be the end of the road for us and going to be a turning point for the negative for us this season. But it was a big win for our team."

It's a win that doesn't entirely erase the fourth-quarter meltdown that cost the team a victory over previously winless Tampa Bay a week ago, but it does show what this team is capable of.

The defense, behind five sacks and three turnovers, held the No. 3-ranked offense in the league scoreless until the final minute of the game just one week after a allowing a game-winning 72-yard touchdown drive to the Buccaneers late in the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, the offense overcame a sluggish first half to put together its best drive of the season to give that defense some breathing room. And the special teams, whose breakdowns had cost the team mightily in losses the last two weeks, shored things up and didn't allow a punt or kickoff return longer than 25 yards.

"The resolve of the team I think was tested, and we proved some stuff not only to our fans but to ourselves and to the rest of the league," Rodgers said. "A lot of people were thinking this was definitely going to be a Cowboy roll today, and our defense played great and our offense did just enough."

The Packers (5-4) also got their share of breaks, which any team needs to pull out a tight game that was 3-0 until early in the fourth quarter. Mason Crosby's 48-yard field goal on the final play of the first half was all the scoring in the first two quarters, in part because Crosby and Dallas kicker Nick Folk both missed field goals early.

In that first half, Dallas (6-3) had a sack and fumble recovery by cornerback Orlando Scandrick at the Green Bay 15-yard line wiped out by an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty on fellow corner Mike Jenkins. The Packers also got a huge turnover when Cowboys receiver Roy Williams beat the coverage downfield for a 42-yard gain, but just as he looked to make a move on cornerback Charles Woodson that might spring him for a touchdown, Woodson punched the ball out and linebacker Clay Matthews pounced on it.

Later, Packers punt returner Tramon Williams had a fumble at midfield overturned by a replay challenge, as he had fallen on his own but had been touched down just before losing control of the ball. And Roy Williams again blew a chance for a big play when a perfect Tony Romo throw into zone coverage went right through his hands instead of for a long gain.

But the Packers took advantage of those breaks and then started making some of their own.

Taking over at their own 20 with 6:50 left in the third quarter, Green Bay embarked on a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that consumed 8 minutes, 36 seconds, and was capped by Rodgers' 1-yard QB sneak for a 10-0 lead with 13:14 left in the fourth quarter.

"I thought it was a big moment in the game," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of the long march, the team's longest scoring drive of the season by four plays and 2½ minutes. "I really thought it illustrated how you want to play."

The drive featured three third-down conversions, including two where the yardage needed was 11 and 13 yards, respectively.

The first was converted with a 14-yard pass to receiver Greg Jennings on which he made a last-second route adjustment against the Dallas coverage, according to Rodgers. The second was a 17-yard strike over the middle to tight end Donald Lee after running back Brandon Jackson picked up blitzing linebacker Keith Brooking to give Rodgers time to fire downfield.

"Being backed up in those situations and being able to convert those third downs, they're huge," said rookie T.J. Lang, who made his first start at right tackle. "They keep drives going. Obviously that drive was probably our biggest drive of the game. We were able to go down and take a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. That's huge. After that, we didn't really look back."

Coming into the game, the Packers were just 4-of-38 on the season when needing 10 or more yards on third down, but they converted two straight, plus a third-and-6 from the Dallas 8-yard line on a pass to receiver Jordy Nelson, who nearly scored but was down at the 1. Rodgers took it in on the next snap.

"We converted some long third downs, and guys made plays when they had to," left guard Daryn Colledge said. "Those were the plays we weren't making in the first eight games. We let games slip away, not because we gave up, but because we didn't make the plays when we had to have it."

{sportsad300}The defense made a couple more big ones as well. On the third play of the ensuing Dallas drive, Charles Woodson came unblocked on a blind-side blitz, sacking Romo and knocking the ball out. It appeared Dallas running back Felix Jones had recovered, but Green Bay's Johnny Jolly stripped the ball from Jones and it continued bounding toward the goal line, where Matthews eventually recovered at the Dallas 3.

Three snaps later, Rodgers (25-of-36, 189 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 91.1 rating) found tight end Spencer Havner for the converted linebacker's fourth TD reception of the season and a commanding 17-0 bulge.

Then, with the defense looking to lock down its second shutout of the season - a feat the Packers haven't accomplished since 1967 - Woodson ended a 76-yard Cowboys drive by picking off a pass intended for tight end Jason Witten at the goal line with 5:57 left.

Unfortunately the shutout wasn't to be, as Dallas finally found the end zone on its final drive, scoring on a 9-yard pass to Williams with 38 seconds remaining. But the defensive effort was superb nonetheless, especially considering the field-position edge the Cowboys had early, starting their first three drives of the game at their own 39-, 42- and 49-yard lines.

"Maybe I was a defensive coach wannabe, but that's the way the game is supposed to be played in November," said McCarthy, who noted he felt the team was very quiet and focused in the locker room before the game. "I speak about it all the time to the football team. We are a defensive first priority. They are the thermostat for our football team and when they play like that, we're going to win a lot of football games."

How many more remains to be seen. For all the positive vibes generated by the win, the Packers know they've won two straight games only once all season, and that was against two teams with a combined two wins on the year.

But at 5-4, and with NFC playoff hopefuls Philadelphia and Atlanta losing Sunday to fall to that same mark, the Packers also know they've pulled themselves into a four-way tie that also includes the New York Giants for what will be two NFC Wild Card bids come season's end.

"We're in a spot where we know November and December games get you to the playoffs, and teams that often go deepest in the playoffs get on a run here," Rodgers said. "Hopefully we can come out next week with the same kind of energy, enthusiasm and urgency, and get another big win."

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