It was a gutwrenching way to end a game as the Dallas Cowboys fell to the Green Bay Packers 34-31 on a last second field goal following another nearly unbelievable pass completion. The Cowboys almost came back from the an 18 point deficit to win it, but came up just barely short. It seems hard to accept, but we need to keep in mind just how far this team came against incredible odds to come within a few seconds of taking this to overtime.
The NFL playoffs had seen nothing but lopsided victories so far, but that certainly changed in AT&T Stadium. After being outplayed badly in the first half, the Cowboys fought back to a tie late in the game, and then after holding the Packers to a field goal, they had 1:33 and a timeout to come back and tie or win the game. And with a rookie backfield, they got it into overtime on a Dan Bailey 52 yard field goal. But they left Aaron Rodgers too much time with 44 seconds, and he got the Packers in position for a 51 yard field goal by Marion Crosby. After Jason Garrett used his last timeout to ice Crosby, he got it just inside the left upright to send the Cowboys to defeat.
There were two main stories going into the game. First, Aaron Rodgers came in on a positively torrid streak, and those who were picking the Packers to win based it almost entirely on how he was just carving up defenses. On Saturday, one national radio show had a discussion about how Rodgers was a “football messiah” and would just destroy Dallas. That turned out to be closer to the truth than we might like to admit, as he tormented the defense all day. The other was about the Cowboys coming into the game with Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, both rookies, in the backfield. Many felt that the pressure of the NFL playoffs would be more than they could handle. That was definitely not the case, as Prescott was generally the poised, accurate passer we have become used to, making several crucial throws and adding a couple of timely runs to extend drives. He became the first rookie quarterback to ever throw three touchdown passes in the playoffs. Elliott was no different, making both big runs and getting four and five yards when it looked like he was going to be stopped right at the line of scrimmage. He would break the 100 yard mark halfway through the fourth quarter. They were not the problem at all, and had so much to do with Dallas coming back to make it as close as they did. They also got a lot of help from Dez Bryant, who had over 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns, and Jason Witten, who had a touchdown and some other key receptions of his own.
But for some reason, the entire team seemed to take a while to get its bearing. The Cowboys dug a huge hole for themselves early, but fought back, and just after the halfway point of the fourth quarter, they got the second sack of Rodgers in the game. It set up a drive featuring a lot of Elliott and was capped by the second touchdown of the game to Dez Bryant, who was catching them all this Sunday. Then Prescott ran a designed quarterback draw for the two point conversion, and the Cowboys had an improbable tie in a game that had looked all but done midway through the second quarter, setting up an exciting finish, and finally giving the NFL the first game of the playoffs that was exciting to watch.
Things started out roughly for the Cowboys, but it had nothing to do with the inexperience of the rookie quarterback and running back. Instead, the team was making frequent mistakes. Dallas had a solid drive going to open the game, but a big gain to Terrance Williams was wiped out by a 15 yard substitution penalty when Brice Butler entered the huddle then left the field. This seemed to be on the coaches, but it forced the Cowboys to settle for a field goal when they had looked to be headed for the end zone. On the first Packers offensive series, Rodgers caught Dallas with 12 men on the field by going with a quick count. Later in the same drive, the Cowboys would be offsides.
Green Bay would score 21 unanswered points. Rodgers would live up to his billing as he repeatedly evaded pressure and found a receiver. Dallas just could not come up with an answer for him. The Packers virtually abandoned the run because they had no real use for it. Rodgers was dead on target most of the time, whether he was in the pocket, rolling out, or dodging pressure. Meanwhile the Cowboys could not mount consistent drives, and the three and out they had early in the second quarter set up the third Green Bay touchdown.
But Dallas finally found an offensive spark after going down 21-3, as Prescott led them on a rapid march down the field. It only took 94 seconds to get a Dallas touchdown on a 40 yard throw to Dez Bryant, who definitely . . . well, you know. They got a chance to cut even further into the lead as Christine Michael bobbled the ball right at the goal line on the kickoff and was dropped at the six yard line, and then the defense finally got a three-and-out of their own. The drive stalled, however. A couple of times, it certainly looked like Witten should have drawn a flag for holding or interference. But the refs also let a couple of holds by Dallas go. Dallas had to settle for another Dan Bailey field goal.
They would finish the half with another good defensive stand, including finally getting to Rodgers when Orlando Scandrick got home on a blitz, but Dallas had been forced to use all their timeouts by then, and time ran out as Cole Beasley fair caught the punt.
Unfortunately, Rodgers would pick up right where he left off, driving for a quick touchdown coming out of halftime. Dallas looked like they were going to answer with another promising drive, but on second and one, Micah Hyde proved he had been doing a lot of film study. He diagnosed a screen pass and jumped it, intercepting Prescott on a play where you could certainly argue that Scott Linehan should have just fed Zeke and gotten the first down, as Elliott was making some big gains on the dirve.
Then that most unlikely but so frequent hero gave the Cowboys a new chance. Jeff Heath got to one of the few balls that Rodgers threw poorly all day and intercepted him, breaking the interception-free streak.
The Cowboys would overcome a holding penalty that erased another big gain by Elliott and convert on a third and two pass to Bryant, but it was another play where you have to wonder why they were throwing the ball and not running it, although at this point, down 28-13 with the third quarter almost gone, they may have felt they were in four down territory already. But it kept things alive, and even though Prescott was sacked, back-to-back passes to Jason Witten got a touchdown and got the deficit to eight points at 28-20. It was a gutsy comeback, but now the Cowboys would have to figure out a way to stop Rodgers and the Packers and get the ball back. After having so much trouble doing that all game, they did so, setting up the dramatic fourth quarter.
The Cowboys came up short in the end, but they put up an incredible fight after having some really big issues early in the game. This was a team that no one gave any chance of winning after losing their starting quarterback in the preseason. They came far, and almost managed to pull this out with some heroic efforts in the end. And this team has an incredibly bright future. They will be back.