One of the hallmarks of the Dallas Cowboys under Jason Garrett is that they always fight hard. But against the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers, who looked just like the nemesis of old, this team seemed to quit for at least part of the contest before reaching down and coming very close to clawing their way back from a huge deficit. Plagued by their own mistakes, though, including turnovers and penalties, they didn’t have enough of an answer for a visitor that has created some real heartbreak before. It all added up to a 34-24 defeat that leaves us all puzzled.
This was a hard game to figure, and leaves us truly unsure just what this Cowboys team really is - which is exactly where we were after the loss last week to the New Orleans Saints. Are they really the team that just crumbled under the early adversity? Or the one that fought back only to come up short?
One sequence just before the end of the third quarter perhaps encapsulated how bad this was. Trying to find a way to overcome a 21 point deficit, Dak Prescott found Amari Cooper for what would turnout to be a 27 yard gain. But the play was initially ruled incomplete. A review after Jason Garrett challenged the play would overturn it. However, Jason Garrett didn’t just throw the challenge flag. He slammed it down, with what looked to be some heated words directed at the nearest official, who he seemed to have been at odds with all day. A yellow flag joined the red challenge one, and Garrett was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. It was an unusual loss of control for the head coach, but seemed to fit very well with what was happening on the field.
Even when the Cowboys finally got some offense going after a horrible start to the game, they had to rely on a lot of penalties to keep drives alive - and not always on the other team. On their second touchdown, an Ezekiel Elliott run that was make possible in part by Elliott’s pass reception to overcome that penalty on Garrett, Dallas had what would have been the third interception of the game by Green Bay wiped out by two penalties - after a fumble on a mistimed snap was also taken off the boards because the bad timing led to a false start by Dallas.
The Cowboys did get back-to-back touchdowns to briefly raise hopes, but another Prescott interception snuffed that out. It was the worst performance by the quarterback in a long time. Perhaps he was pressing too hard to try and overcome the huge hole the team had dug itself. It does bear mentioning that replay on the third interception certainly looked like illegal contact by the defender on Michael Gallup, Kevin King.
But the Cowboys did hold the Packers to a field goal on that turnover. And they showed some resiliency as Prescott found Cooper for a pretty scintillating 53 yard touchdown to get the deficit to 34-24, with a little over a half of the fourth quarter to play.
What finally put this one in the books for the Packers was a depressing inability by the Cowboys to stop Aaron, but not the one you think. Aaron Jones just kept beating the defense, with over 100 yards running and 76 yards passing, and all four of Green Bay’s touchdowns.
The Cowboys did come alive, finally getting some sacks late in the game as they also found a way to score touchdowns
It was an embarrassing first half that really killed their chances, however. The Cowboys had a nice three and out against the Packers to start things, and strung together two very successful plays to quickly get all the way to the Green Bay 38. Then the first disaster of the half struck, as a pass to a wide open Cooper went off his hands and was intercepted by Jaire Alexander, who returned it to Dallas’ 47. The ball may have been thrown a bit behind Cooper by Prescott, but Cooper could and should have hauled it in. A promising drive fizzled. And that was just the start of the problems.
Given a short field, Rodgers did exactly what we were all afraid to see. He started making plays under pressure, somehow avoiding sacks and finding receivers. Meanwhile, the Cowboys defense suddenly forgot how to defend the run, and Jones accumulated 66 yards and two touchdowns rushing. Oh, and he was their leading receiver of the first half as well with 48 yards on four catches. As you can tell from the stats earlier, he was hardly done, either.
It was like the early interception shattered something inside the Cowboys that would take nearly half the game to get back together. Cooper takes the blame for it, but Prescott would throw another that was strictly on him. And there is no explanation for how poorly the defense responded. Add in some huge penalties that extended Green Bay drives, or killed their own, and it was a combination of their own mistakes and some clearly better play by the guys in the other uniforms that had them in a 17-0 hole at halftime.
The Cowboys had the ball to start the second half, and needed some of the third quarter magic they have had. But it didn’t materialize, as Prescott had one incompletion wiped out by a penalty only to have another one to stop his streak as Alexander broke up a pass to Cooper and Dallas was forced into a three and out.
Once again, the defense was playing loose and sloppy and could not get off the field. When Jones added his third touchdown run of the game, things were pretty much over.
Then, just as Dallas was showing a little offensive life, La’el Collins was hurt. Brandon Knight was forced into action at RT, and with Cameron Fleming already filling in for Tyron Smith, it was now Dak season for the Packers pass rush. After having a first and goal at the 7, they just went backwards and had to settle for a 36 yard Brett Maher field goal. It was way too little, far too late.
While there were some questionable decisions made by the Cowboys’ staff, such as electing to try a 54 yard field goal with only 45 seconds left in the first half, and already down 17-0, most of this has to go to Dallas just getting beaten player to player. On offense, it was more about mistakes that killed drives, but the defense was just flat out getting whupped. Repeatedly players would take bad angles or not get there in time, allowing Jones to break another chunk run or Rodgers to complete passes. Or they would have a huge penalty, like the pass interference by Anthony Brown when, as seems to be typical for the Dallas secondary, he did not get his head around and drew the flag to set up the Packers for a score that took it from way out of reach to over-in-the-next-zip-code out of reach. And, stop me if you’ve heard this one, it was another run from Aaron Jones that put even more nails in the coffin.
The Cowboys did not get a touchdown until their were only 17 minutes left in the game, on a ball that Prescott was barely able to get to Michael Gallup as he was getting hit by the pass rush that had been in his face all day, and was just getting worse. It just highlighted how Dallas’ pass rush was just not getting to Rodgers in the first three quarters while Prescott was sacked multiple times and was often barely able to get the ball out on other downs.
The final offensive play of the night for the Cowboys was a fitting cap on this game. Needing a field goal to make it a one score game (after stalling in the red zone), they had a false start from Xavier Su’a-Filo wipe one off. And Maher then missed the retry.
This was a really frustrating game. Now the team has to search for answers and try to get back on the right track.