It’s all over now. That’s how it is in the NFL, you go through a long season, get to the playoffs if you’re good enough, then have the whole thing taken away in an instant if you lose. That’s what happened to the Cowboys on Sunday night.
And the big reason they lost? Simply put, Aaron Rodgers is a phenomenal quarterback.
Green Bay has the best quarterback in the NFL.
The best quarterback in the NFL has been playing the best football of his life.
Translation: Packers win.
It's that simple -- the Green Bay Packers have Aaron Rodgers ... and you don't.
Rodgers passed for 356 yards, a postseason record against the Cowboys, including 63 in the final 35 seconds that set up a game-winning 51-yard field goal by Mason Crosby and gave the Packers a 34-31 victory Sunday, ending the season of the NFC's top seed with a thud.
The Cowboys did plenty to put themselves in a hole, and they were tremendous in rallying back. But when the Packers needed it, Rodgers was there every time, including the unbelievable pass to Jared Cook to set up the winning field goal. Sometimes you just run into a hot player.
The ball was in Aaron Rodgers’ hands last. That’s really the best way to sum up this classic. I thought both teams would score 30-plus points because that’s about what the Packers have averaged in their previous seven straight wins, and that’s about what the Cowboys have averaged in seven straight home wins. These are two dynamic offenses, but Green Bay got what they wanted and that’s a faster start than their wild-card game, when they punted on their first five drives. Some will point to the Cowboys’ time off contributing to a slow start (21-3 deficit in the first half), but the offense simply got in their own way early. Ultimately you have to give Rodgers credit. He’s on some kind of a roll, and he made the big play at the end.
That’s not to say that Dak Prescott played poorly, in fact, matched up against most other quarterbacks he likely would have been the winner. His stat line was excellent.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott held his own against the future Hall of Famer, though. In fact, he may have even outdueled him. The rookie again proved unflappable, guiding his team back when all hope seemed lost. He totaled 302 passing yards while completing 24-of-38 attempts for three touchdowns, an interception and a 103.2 rating.
That passer rating was better than Rodgers at 96.7. Still, Rodgers found a way to win.
Prescott also got help from the other two new Triplets.
His fellow freshman, Ezekiel Elliott, was outstanding as well, as he rushed for 125 yards on 22 carries, an impressive 5.7 yards per attempt. And the third member of this new era of Triplets did his part also. Dez Bryant racked up 132 receiving yards on nine catches with two touchdown grabs.
If you’re going to go look at blame for the loss, let’s look at a critical play that happened so early in the game many people forget about it.
1. What happened on the opening drive?
The Cowboys were moving the ball, then threw on third and 2 and settled for a 50-yard Dan Bailey field goal. Why didn't they run Ezekiel Elliott? Instead, Dak Prescott threw to a double-covered Dez Bryant. After that pass fell incomplete, why not run Zeke on fourth-and-2? Bailey gave the Cowboys the early 3-0 lead, but Dallas basically played catch up from there on out. Yes, it was only the first possession. But I think it went a long way in setting the tone for the next three quarters.
I couldn’t agree more. At the time it happened, I was messaging with fellow front-page writer Jim Scott. This is what I wrote: Run it on 3rd and 2 please. I must have mentioned this play to my wife 10 times during the game. The Cowboys gave in and got away from running the ball down the Packers’ throats. They could have really established a tone for the game, and possibly put seven points up instead of three, if they would have just run it. Green Bay really never slowed down their run game.
Another play that really hurt Dallas took place late.
Late in the game, with Dallas trailing by three, Dak Prescott hit Jason Witten for an 11-yard gain to set up first-and-10 at the Green Bay 40 with 49 seconds left and the Cowboys holding one timeout. They had enough time and downs to do what they wanted. But when Prescott took the first-down snap, he spiked the ball to stop the clock. The ripple effect was subtle but undeniable.
You kill the clock when there’s no other option. You don’t kill the clock when you have plenty of time to run plays and downs are your most precious commodity. Yet the Cowboys — down three and in field-goal range — wasted one of their three offensive downs because they didn’t want to take a few more seconds to call a play. They killed a clock that wasn’t close to killing them. It had a multi-pronged effect:
That effect being they wasted a down, they eventually failed to pick up the first down, they kicked a field goal instead of potentially scoring a touchdown, and they gave Aaron Rodgers too much time. This was a poor decision.
That too much time left on the clock helped set up Packers kicker Mason Crosby for the second of his long, almost-missed kicks at the end that sealed the win.
What Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby did against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday was unprecedented.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Crosby is the first kicker to make two field goals 50 yards or longer in the final two minutes of a postseason game.
He put the Packers ahead twice, the last time as time ran out.
"It's kind of a blur right now," Crosby said shortly after the Packers' 34-31 victory at AT&T Stadium. "But it was unreal."
But let’s not get too negative, the season on the whole gives reason for optimism.
Season grade: A
Season summary: You can be disappointed the Cowboys were not able to secure their sixth Super Bowl trophy, but that should not dampen the mood from a season that was as unexpected as any in recent memory. When Tony Romo went down Aug. 25 with a compression fracture in his back, the hopes many had were dashed before the first regular-season game, but then Dak Prescott had one of the best -- if not the best -- seasons in NFL history by a rookie quarterback. Ezekiel Elliott dealt with high expectations as the No. 4 overall pick and over-delivered, leading the NFL in rushing. The offensive line was the best in football. Defensively, the unit exceeded expectations with only one star player in Sean Lee. Jason Garrett deserves credit for how the team dealt with the adversities of the season, such as Romo's injury and injuries to other starters and suspensions. Dallas tied the franchise record for most wins in a season (13) and set the franchise mark with 11 wins in a row. The Cowboys have plenty of decisions to make in the offseason, but this is still a team that has a young core of talent that should grow together, led by Prescott and Elliott. Even through this loss, the future for the Cowboys looks exceedingly bright.
Of course, the big question of the offseason will be what will happen with Tony Romo?
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he was not ready to address backup quarterback Tony Romo's future after Dallas' season-ending 34-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
"We don't need to get into that tonight," Jones told media after the game. "We'll obviously look at what we're doing. We won't do it tomorrow, we won't do it the next day. But we'll look at where we are relative to Tony and relative to other players. But not tonight."
There were reports today that the Cowboys were going to try and trade Romo this offseason, we’ll just have to wait and see.
P.S. - When is the draft?! (April 27-29, to answer my own question)