The Dallas Cowboys went into Lambeau Field to play the Green Bay Packers after having one of their best games in recent memory. But the play was much less efficient, and included Dak Prescott throwing the first interception of his young career (although not before he broke Tom Brady’s record for most passes without one to start a career). It was still good enough, as Aaron Rodgers continued to struggle. He missed passes all game long that he used to make with ease. The result was a 30-16 victory for the Cowboys, who move to a surprising 5-1 record going into their bye week.
Repeatedly during the game, the Packers got close to the end zone but either had to settle for a field goal or wound up turning the ball over. Meanwhile, Dallas put together bookend touchdown drives in the first half. The first was the kind we are becoming pleasantly accustomed to, as they took the opening kickoff and marched right down the field, capping it off with a Cole Beasley touchdown reception. Then they finished the half with perhaps the most impressive series yet for Prescott. The Packers had pinned them down on the three yard line, and were looking to get the ball back with enough time to drive the field. It looked like they would get the ball back, but on 3rd and one, Linehan and Garrett once again diverged from the conservative path and called a jet sweep to Lucky Whitehead, who raced around left end for 26 yards. Suddenly the Cowboys were no longer trying to get out without giving up points, they were on the hunt to score again. It took only two plays, a 42 yard pass to Terrance Williams and a 20 yard touchdown to Brice Butler. It was a crushing blow. The door was slammed shut by the Cowboys’ third touchdown early in the fourth quarter as they put together another solid drive capped by Beasley’s second score of the game, when he made the defensive back supposed to cover him look just silly.
The defense had its issues, struggling to get any pressure on Rodgers most of the game, but David Irving finally got through, and at a crucial moment. The Packer had the ball on the Dallas one yard line and were looking to close the gap to seven points when Irving broke through and stripped the ball free. Unlike the long drive of the first half, this one ended poorly for the Cowboys as Prescott finally threw an interception on what appeared to be a miscommunication with Jason Witten. But Green Bay had to settle for a field goal, and that four point swing was significant.
Going into the game, the big story was whether the Cowboys could mount a successful running game against the top rushing defense in the NFL, but it turned out that the Cowboys running game was a bit more legitimate. Ezekiel Elliott had his fourth 130 plus yard game in a row, with a long of 29. It would in fact wind up his first game over 150 as the Cowboys as a team put up more rushing yards on Green Bay than they had yielded in the four previous games. In the battle of strength against strength, the most muscle was with the Star.
There will likely be a lot of talk after the game that the Packers were hardly the team they have been in the past, and there is a certain justification there. Rodgers is definitely off, and their secondary was easily beaten on several occasions. Perhaps the clearest example was the 35 yard completion to Lucky Whitehead, where he was able to stop and wait for the ball without fear of molestation. But Dallas can only play the opponents on the schedule, and for the fifth week in a row, they were the best team at the end of the day.
The worst thing for the Cowboys was that both Morris Claiborne and Barry Church were lost to injury, but now the team has the bye week for them to get better. Claiborne was reported as having a concussion.
As against the Bengals, the Cowboys yielded points late, but it was too little too late as Dallas used the running game to run the clock down and put up a field goal late in the fourth quarter to make it a 14 point lead.
The Cowboys are winning when they play extremely well, and winning when they get sloppy at times. The key thing is that they are still winning. Sitting where they are at this point in the season, with a rookie quarterback and a very suspect defense, is far more than anyone could have dreamed when Tony Romo was injured. But they have put a power running game and an amazingly effective passing attack on the field, and kept the bend-don’t-break defense going. They won the turnover battle four to two, and were much more effective in the red zone on both sides of the ball.
And Dez Bryant will be back after the bye, according to all indications. Then the team will figure when to bring Tony Romo back (it is looking more like the game against the Cleveland Browns). That will make the receiving corps better, and there is an excellent chance Romo will make the attack even better.
Who knows how high the ceiling is for this team?