Let’s face it, the Dallas Cowboys have only themselves to blame for their head scratching 26-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers. This game should never have hinged on a referee’s interpretation on how far a receiver has to reach with his arm toward the goal line to determine whether or not it’s a catch.
With that said the unraveling of the team really started with 40 seconds to go in the first half. Up until that point, the Cowboys had the situation well under control.
That’s right! Dallas had all the momentum going for it toward the end of the second quarter. With the team driving for a touchdown, or at least a chip shot field goal, it all fell apart when Garrett called for a timeout after tight end Jaxon Witten had been rewarded a first down on a generous spot after catching a Tony Romo pass. Instead of allowing his team to go into a hurry-up mode to run another play, the head coach called a time out. When play resumed, officials had reversed the call to a third and one.
Instead of running for the first down, Romo bungled the ensuing shotgun snap. The hurried pass fell incomplete. Two field goal attempts by Dan Bailey both sailed to the right (the second one was partially blocked). The field position and three Green Bay timeouts gave quarterback Aaron Rodgers all the time he needed to make something happen.
What Rodger’s needed was for one of his receivers to make a play downfield. Wide out Randall Cobb obliged his QB by breaking free to snag a 31-yard pass to the Dallas 26. Two plays later, kicker Norm Crosby’s 40-yard field goal made the score 14-10. The six point swing would be crucial.
The Cowboys had another golden opportunity to go up 21-10 in the third. After stopping the Packers on their opening drive, Dallas had the ball on their own 41. Scott Lineham called the perfect play for the blitzing Packers – a run off right tackle to DeMarco Murray. Just as he was breaking into daylight in what would have been a 59-yard touchdown run, lineman Julius Peppers somehow manages to dislodge the ball from the Dallas running back. It was recovered by linebacker Datone Jones. The Packers then proceed to take the ball downfield and kick another field goal.
Dallas responded by going 80 yards in six plays. Murray and receiver Dez Bryant accounted for 67 of the yards on the drive that ended with the running back pounding the ball in from a yard out to give the Cowboys a 21-13 lead.
The biggest nemesis for the Dallas defense all game long was the ability of Green Bay’s receivers to gain significant yardage after the initial catch. Randall Cobb and Devante Adams had more than 100 yards rushing after their receptions. The stat really raised its ugly head when the Packers were facing a third and 15 from the Cowboys 46. It was late in the third quarter and Rodgers connected with Adams who was behind safety Sterling Moore. Moore tried to get his hands on the ball by going underneath Adams but was a second too late. Cornerback J.J. Wilcox took a bad angle on Adams to tackle him but missed as the receiver cut back across the field and ran 31 yards to the end zone.
After holding the Cowboys on the nest series, the Green Bay offense found itself on its own ten yard line. It didn’t faze Rodgers. He guided his team downfield in seven plays with it culminating with a pass from Rodgers to Rodgers (Richard) from 13 yards out and the lead. The stage was set for Dallas to do something spectacular.
Up to this point, the Cowboys had no one but themselves to blame for the situation they were in. An ill-advised time out here and a lucky poke of the hand there to cause a fumble had put Dallas in the hole with nine minutes left in the game. Romo managed to work five minutes off the clock when he found himself facing a moment of truth – fourth down and two from the Green Bay 38. Instead of going for a quick hit underneath for the first down, Romo opted for a perfectly thrown strike to Dez Bryant. The receiver made one of his patented circus-like catches over cornerback Sam Shields and made three lunging steps toward the end zone stopping just an inch short from the goal line. Packers coach Mike McCarthy, on advice from his coaches upstairs, gambled and threw the red challenge flag claiming the ball was an incomplete pass. The call was reversed with the ball reverted back to Green Bay.
A chance to recreate the dramatic Ice Bowl finish of 1967 with Dallas reversing the roll and taking the ball over the goal line for the go-ahead score was averted. A season of discontent would ensue.
Cowboy Notes – Club president Stephen Jones has a busy offseason ahead of him. He has already resigned head coach Jason Garrett to a new contract as well as defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Negotiations with offensive coordinator Scott Lineham continue. It is unlikely that he would take the head coaching position with the Oakland Raiders. Offensive line coach Bill Callahan is exploring options and will more than likely be moving.
The NFL’s free agency period begins March 10. The team has 19 free agents (15 unrestricted, four restricted) they will have to make hard decisions on in the coming weeks. Those free agents include nine of the 22 starters against Green Bay. The two high profile players are All Pro’s Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray. On defense, the linebacker corps of Bruce Carter, Justin Durant and Rolando McClain as well as defensive lineman Anthony Spencer, Nick Hayden, George Selvie and Henry Melton. Nagging injury issues and inconsistent play through their contracts will be determining factors in their future with the franchise.
– David Huff
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