It was a case of deja vu all over again, as the Dallas Cowboys jumped out to a big, early lead against the Green Bay Packers, only to have them come back. Dallas led 21-6 at one point, but Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers, and he brought the Packers back for 16 unanswered points to give them a 22-21 lead after the first play of the fourth quarter. It was the same script that cost them the game against the Los Angeles Rams a week earlier.
And it happened again, as the Cowboys retook the lead late, but couldn’t stop the Green Bay Packers from driving the field and scoring the winning touchdown to take the game by a score of 35-31.
It would come down to whether the Cowboys could make a defensive stand against the most dangerous passer in the league. And it would be as much because of his ability to escape the rush, as he got an 18 yard run in the waning seconds to get them down to the 12 yard line, and then he would thrown one of his absolutely perfect passes to get the winning touchdown. The game was won because Rodgers is just so good, and he had an unexpected amount of help from his running game, which totaled 160 yards.
Things went terribly wrong for the Cowboys with just under ten minutes left in the game when the Packers got a pick six from Damarious Randall. It went in the record books as a Dak Prescott interception, but the ball went right off Terrance Williams’ hands. A failed two point conversion left the score at 28-24 in favor of the Packers.
The Cowboys then had to answer with a touchdown. They got the ball with 9:56 left on the clock, and drove the ball down. They ate the clock up behind the running of Elliott, but the most important play of the drive for him may have been on a fourth down play that was initially ruled as short. Replay from the skycam showed that he reached the ball past the mark and kept the drive alive with the third fourth down conversion of the game for Dallas.
And that took the clock down to the two minute mark. The Cowboys had finally found their time-eating, power running game with Elliott getting his first 100 yard game of the season. He probably deserved to get the go-ahead touchdown, but Prescott executed another one of his superb read-option runs to take it in from the 11 and give Dallas a three point lead. The only problem was that it left Rodgers and the Packers 1:13 to try and tie it or take the lead.
The running game did not start at all well, but finally came to life after the Cowboys lost the lead in the fourth quarter. Ezekiel Elliott had consecutive runs of 25 and 11 yards to start the team off. The drive would stall at the 25, leading to a Dan Bailey field goal that got the Cowboys a two point lead. That lead existed because Mason Crosby missed two extra points for Green Bay, which was why they went for and missed the two point try in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys were excellent offensively in the first half, with three consecutive touchdown drives to open the game. They overcame two second and 14 situations, converted two fourth downs, and totally dominated time of possession in the first half by holding the ball 18:50 before halftime. Dak Prescott was 15 of 19 for 168 yards and all three touchdowns, two to Cole Beasley and one on a perfectly placed throw to Dez Bryant. What was lacking was an effective running game, with Ezekiel Elliott only having 30 yards rushing, a trend that continued all through the third quarter. The offensive line continued its inconsistent play, failing to open holes on the ground and often leaving Prescott scrambling to avoid sacks. But Prescott made some very good throws on the run, none better than his 49 yard completion to Brice Butler on third and 13 to keep the opening touchdown drive alive.
The defense also had some great moments in the first half, including forcing a three and out by sacking Rodgers twice, the first by Tyrone Crawford, and the second by David Irving. Irving made it plain how the Cowboys missed him during his suspension by getting a second sack later in the first half. Rodgers was under considerable pressure much of the game, but his ability to make throws under duress was still on full display. There were also multiple penalties on Dallas that extended drives, including a facemask on Anthony Hitchens that may have led to the second GB touchdown, and a somewhat questionable roughing the passed flag on Benson Mayowa that even Mike Pereira felt was unjustified. They also had some crucial offensive penalties, including another hold on Travis Frederick late in the fourth quarter. However, the refs give as well as take away, and the Cowboys’ first touchdown drive was kept alive by an equally questionable personal foul call on a blow to the head on Dez Bryant.
There was a scary moment in the first half when Prescott ran for three yards on a scramble, but was tackled in almost exactly the same way that Tony Romo was when he was injured in the 2016 preseason. Fortunately, he did not seem to suffer any ill effects.