Questionable play call proves costly vs. Packers; what Cowboys allowed that was unfathomable
Smiley N. Pool/Staff Photographer
COWS LOSE, COWS LOSE, and COWS STINK!!!
ARLINGTON -- Even in the euphoria of the Cowboys taking a 31-28 lead with just over a minute left in regulation, surely everyone who's followed Aaron Rodgers' career knew he had way too much time to lead the Packers to a win. And that's what he did in delivering a 35-31 win that dropped the Cowboys' record to 2-3. At least the Packers didn't wait until the postseason to cause such heartbreak this time around. Now, settle in for my weekly Hurry-up Column:
** One thing you can fault the Cowboys for is throwing to the end zone on the play before the zone-read touchdown from Dak Prescott. It stopped the clock at a time when Ezekiel Elliott had become a one-man wrecking crew to the Packers' defense. To have any chance of stopping Rodgers, you needed to leave him 50 seconds or less and no timeouts. As crazy as it seems, you have to account for Rodgers' unique gifts when you're trying to score a touchdown late. I know you can't ask Prescott to fall down at the 1-yard line, but the throw to the end zone was a curious play at that point. As Troy Aikman pointed out on the FOX broadcast, you didn't want to push the gas with over a minute left. It wasn't egregious game-management, but you really need to be perfect when Rodgers or Tom Brady is on the other sideline.
** Former Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett came alive in the second half. He made a gorgeous catch early in the second half that helped set up a field goal that trimmed the Cowboys' lead to 21-15. On the game-winning drive, it was Bennett who rumbled for 14 yards across midfield. The Cowboys simply didn't have a player who could match up with him. It seems like Rodgers is getting more and more comfortable with him. We saw that with Tom Brady and Bennett last season.
** The Packers haven't had a dependable running game in forever. It's unfathomable the Cowboys allowed rookie Aaron Jones to gash them for 125 yards and a touchdown. The Cowboy were completely fooled when Jones got a carry on that last drive. DeMarcus Lawrence and Justin Durant basically took themselves out of the play because they both anticipated a pass attempt from Rodgers. Jones provided rare balance for the Packers, and that made Rodgers even more lethal with the passing game.
** Rodgers was actually facing a third-and-8 after a short gain by Jones on that game-winning drive. He took off for an 18-yard scramble on which Cowboys defensive ends Benson Mayowa and David Irving both missed tackles. Irving was a disruptive presence while lining up over center for much of the game, but he couldn't make a play on Rodgers in space. When Rodgers finished that run, you could tell he knew the game was over. He was going to find a way to throw a touchdown pass...and he did.
** The Cowboys are leaning heavily on rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis right now, in part because he's played extremely well. On that final Packers drive, Lewis made an outstanding play to break up a pass to Davante Adams in the end zone. But he got turned around on a gorgeous back-shoulder throw that effectively ended the game. You hope that play doesn't impact Lewis' confidence, because he's been playing at such a high level.
** Terrance Williams is making too many big mistakes in the passing game. He should've made a catch that bounced off his shoulder and into Damarious Randall's hands for a pick-six that gave the Packers a 28-24 lead. It wasn't a great pass by Prescott, but it's one that Williams should've been able to handle. That's a horrible thing to have happen at that stage of the game. It's not the first pick Prescott has surrendered to the Packers, but this one wasn't truly his fault. Prescott played well enough to win this game. He simply asked his own defense to do more than it's capable of doing right now.
** Cowboys defensive end Benson Mayowa was called for a 15-yard personal foul after DeMarcus Lawrence had been credited with a sack in the third quarter. It appeared that Rodgers was going to be called for intentional grounding on the play, but the officials ruled that he was in the grasp. It did not look like Mayowa delivered a shot to the head or neck area of Rodgers. Maybe it was a makeup call for the Cowboys' first scoring drive when Blake Martinez was called for hitting a defenseless receiver (Dez Bryant). Bryant actually dropped the ball in the end zone on the play. Martinez didn't appear to do much of anything to Bryant, but the play looked bad to an official in real time.
** It took awhile to get Elliott going, but he took over in the fourth quarter. Once he popped a 25-yard run early in the quarter, all bets were off. He finished with 116 yards on 29 carries. The Cowboys will wonder what may have happened if he'd been allowed to have a couple more carries before they scored late in the fourth quarter. If Elliott gets an unfavorable court ruling, the Cowboys have no hope of climbing back in the playoff race.
** The Packers came into the game with the 28th-ranked rushing offense in the NFL (75 yards per game). They more than doubled that amount with 160 in Sunday's win. It was nice to have Anthony Hitchens back on the field, but this defense desperately needs Sean Lee to return. Rodgers is enough of a threat without letting the Packers get it going with the run. The Cowboys are really poor against the run this season. That hasn't been a huge issue in the past...but it is now.
By Matt Mosley, Special Contributor Contact Matt Mosleyon Twitter: @mattmosley