You almost had us, Mike McCarthy.
For a moment, it looked like the Cowboys really were turning a corner. They survived without Dak Prescott, going 4-1 despite some often uninspiring quarterback play from Cooper Rush, and then thrashed two bad teams once Prescott returned.
More than that, they did so while the rest of the NFC (sans the Eagles) was looking incompetent, incapable, or both. The Cowboys were emerging as one of the best teams in the NFL: their defense was ripping quarterbacks apart, the offense was running over everyone, punt coverage units were checking under their beds at night for KaVontae Turpin, and Prescott’s return had the Cowboys looking complete.
That’s where things stood when they went into the bye week. Things were so good that Jerry and Stephen Jones - in addition to a choir of prominent Cowboys players - were basically promising to spend whatever it takes to get Odell Beckham Jr. in the fold. Cowboys stock was soaring.
Then the Cowboys made the trip up to Green Bay, a stadium home to a team and a quarterback that have haunted this franchise for far too long. This time, Dallas had McCarthy on their side. He’s the only coach this century to lead the Packers to a Super Bowl, and he looked to have the Cowboys ready to do the same.
The Packers, meanwhile, were reeling. Losers of five straight games, Green Bay entered the game with a slumping Aaron Rodgers and an injury report as long as a CVS receipt. Were this any other team, the Cowboys would’ve been favored to win by multiple touchdowns.
But the Green Bay Packers are not just any other team. Even when at their worst, this franchise still has the Cowboys’ number, it appears.
Things started out slow for the Cowboys, especially on offense. It was excusable, though, as this was Prescott’s first cold weather game all year; perhaps the weather was affecting his surgically repaired throwing hand. The offense woke up soon enough, but mental mistakes on consecutive drives - first from Dalton Schultz in the endzone and then from CeeDee Lamb near midfield - led to interceptions. Those interceptions led to points. And the Cowboys entered halftime tied at 14 apiece.
The Cowboys were not dominating a weaker opponent early. They had done this in each of their last two games as well: they were tied 3-3 with the Lions at halftime, while the Bears scored 10 points in 40 seconds to cut the lead to 28-17 before the break. In both of those games, the Cowboys came out in the second half and took control of the game, never letting their foot off the gas.
Just as in those two games, the Cowboys had shown themselves to be the far superior team against the Packers. One of their two first half touchdowns was a 58-yard bomb that saw Anthony Brown fall down in coverage. The other came on a drive that started just 24 yards away from the endzone. The Cowboys had gifted their opponent points, but they were otherwise firing on all cylinders.
For a moment, it looked like the Cowboys were going to make it three straight games of hammering down on their opponent after a shaky first half. They scored a touchdown, forced a punt, and then scored another touchdown. They led 28-14 when the fourth quarter started.
But then Rodgers hit another deep touchdown lob, this time on a critical fourth down, to cut down the lead. The offense stalled out again, and even after another Packers touchdown to tie things up, they still failed to score. And when overtime came, it was the same story all over again.
Much of the story for the Cowboys this year has been their ability to overcome adversity. Even when they didn’t play their best at some points - it happens, just look at the Bills - this team managed to find ways to win when it mattered most. Doing it against a flailing Packers team in Lambeau, denying Rodgers one of his patented comeback attempts while sticking a fork in his team’s season, would’ve been special. It would have reaffirmed the idea that this team truly was different, that the identity McCarthy has instilled in his players has officially made them a team that can contend.
Instead, the Cowboys still have some proving to do. The season is not over by any means. They’re 6-3 and have the fourth best record in the conference; they’ll also play all three of the teams ahead of them before the regular season ends. Depending on how the players respond to this game, this could actually be what galvanizes them to become the very team we all hoped they were.
Only time will tell, of course. For now, all we know is the Cowboys aren’t there yet. This was an opportunity to prove these weren’t the same old Cowboys. They failed this test, but there will be others down the road. All they can do now is start studying up for the next one; after all, it’s right around the corner.