This game was supposed to be about McCarthy versus LaFleur. Aaron Rodgers versus Dak Prescott. Cowboys-Packers and their connected history. McCarthy and his Packer history. Rodgers and his public disconnect with McCarthy. The Cowboy vaunted defense. The Packers’ patchwork offense and defense trying to salvage their respectability while dealing with injury after injury. The season seemed set to collapse for Titletown fans. Losing to the Dallas Cowboys has an extra taste of bitterness for every Packer fan. After dominating them in the Lombardi era, years of defeats by Troy Aikman and the Cowboys of the early 1990s, especially those playoff losses from ’93-‘95, still burn hot. For Mike McCarthy to come out before warmups, wearing a Lombardi like coat was…odd at best, comically absurd at worst. I don’t think one pundit predicted that the Green Bay Packers would execute in crunch time and pull out a thrilling overtime victory. But that’s how this game played out and it was capital T; Thrilling.
A comeback like few others. From a team that could have looked at the bad plays, and there were some doozies, and given up. But one thing you can never say is that Aaron Rodgers isn’t a competitor. When the Packers needed a perfect pass, Rodgers delivered on Sunday time and again. It was Rodgers who was throwing blocks, and a good one, to break out Aaron Jones in the final minute of the game. It was Aaron Rodgers barking at his head coach when communications failures took precious time and a time out off the clock as the game was winding down. It was Rodgers who shrugged off the worst game of his career last week to make a difference. And when he needed help, Aaron Jones did his job to the tune of 138 yards on 24 carries and 2 receptions for an additional 18. If you watched the game, the numbers do not do Jones justice. Add on Christian Watson (4-107- 3TD’s) and you had a recipe for a thrilling victory.
Christian Watson hosted a, “Welcome to the NFL” party Sunday at Lambeau Field. Lucky for us, every Packer fan was invited. Before this game, Watson’s biggest talked about play was his drop of a sure touchdown on the first offensive drive of the season. Watson, the small school phenom with unique size and speed measurables, has spent more time in the training room hot tub than he has on the field. After being held out after one play/catch last game, it looked like he was about to be labeled a brittle bust. On Sunday, Watson had the breakout game many fans have been fantasizing about since his draft card was announced last April. His first 100 yard game. His first multiple TD catch game. But even more important, during crunch time, Aaron Rodgers looked for the rookie and he delivered. It all ended with a thrilling win for the Packers and a devastating loss for Mike McCarthy.
Both teams mounted multiple failed drives in the first half. The Packers Mason Crosby left a 54 yard field goal short on their second possession. Even with Dallas benefitting from the decent field position, the Packer defense forced a second three and out and the Cowboy offense punted. The Packers responded by punting for the second time and then Dallas surgically took apart the Green Bay defense with a bit of help from a 12 man on the field penalty. On that flagged offense, LaFleur all but knocked a ref over to try to get a timeout, to no avail.
The offense then gave Dallas the break they were looking for when Rodgers was stripped of the football, giving Dallas the ball in the red zone. But Dak Prescott gave the ball right back, throwing it into the arms of Packer defensive back Rudy Ford, who snatched the pigskin at the goal line and returned it to the Packers 33. The Packers had the ball and some momentum and Christian Watson cashed that momentum into six points with a great over the shoulder catch of an accurate deep pass from Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers had just had his thumb checked on the sideline after the strip-sack, so his deep throw with perfect touch was a welcome sign for every Packer fan at home and in the stadium.
The Packer defense then started strong but gave up a quick pass interference penalty. After another stuffed couple of run plays, Devonte Wyatt went down with an injury. Things looked bleak. On third and six, the defense gave up five and ½ leaving another first down and less than a yard for the Cowboys. Dallas had overpowered the Green Bay defense three times on their touchdown drive on similar plays with less than a yard to gain for a first down. The Cowboy offense set up fast, seemingly catching the Green Bay defense off guard. On this fourth attempt to stuff Dallas on 4th down and one yard to go, the Packer defensive surge stopped Prescott behind the line of scrimmage, but when Darnell Savage had a chance to tackle his legs and stop him in his tracks, he instead tried an arm strip of the ball, letting Prescott slip by him for the first down.
Savage’s gaffe was redeemed by Rudy Ford’s second interception return to the 28 of Dallas.
With the clock winding down in the first half, the Packers gave it to their one true consistent superstar; Aaron Jones. Three running plays by Jones capped off with a 12 yard TD scamper cutting back across the Dallas defense, giving the Packers the lead at 14-7. That lead did not last long. The Packer defense played it safe and let Dallas drive all the way to the end zone in less than two minutes. The story of the Packer 2022 defense played out in that half. Two interception turnovers. Two drives where they were picked apart.
The second half started with the Packers offense marching backward, facing a second and 22 after a Nijman holding call, but the Packers converted on a Rodgers’ back shoulder toss to Watkins. The drive all but ended when Rodgers’ ‘perfect deep pass near the goal line to Christian Watson was off his hands. Replays seemed to show Watson quitting on the route, not seeing the ball until it was too late. Then the Packers “special” teams gave the momentum to Dallas as Amari Rodgers coughed up the ball, returning the Dallas punt, his fourth fumble of the season. Rodgers’ days as the punt returner are probably over. Dallas quickly took advantage, scoring a touchdown on a draw play against a Packer blitz attempt that failed.
The next Packer possession had touchdown potential taken away when Rodgers was sacked on third down.
The defense then looked to have Dallas pinned back with a 2nd and 21, but they gave up two pass plays to allow a first down. On the conversion Darnell Savage was beaten in coverage by Cee Dee Lamb who at that point had 9 catches for 100 yards almost all off of Savage. But he was not done, as Savage watched Lamb walk into the end zone on a following pass catch to give Dallas a 14 point advantage. If you had watched the Packers in 2022, you would have been tempted to turn the TV off right there. Dallas had just notched 21 unanswered. The Packers had made critical mistakes to get 14 down. The broken record was skipping again. If you did, boy did you miss a classic. The responding Packer drive had Rodgers looking off target on a couple of throws leading to a 4th and seven.
Packer fans had seen this before this season. Then, the Packers stepped out of their losing 2022 ways. Rodgers floated a perfect strike to Christian Watson for a 39 yard touchdown to cut the gap to seven. Now it was up to the defense to make a critical game changing stand. Preston Smith came up big, hitting Prescott as he threw on 3rd down, forcing an incompletion and punt. Could this offense that had not been able to string scoring drives together shake their bad habits? Yes, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers came alive. A fantastic drive combining the Aaron Jones and Christian Watson shows had Watson capping it off with his third TD catch of the game.
Tied at 28 with two minutes left, up to the Packer defense to stand tall. The defense did its job again and Rodgers got the ball back with over 90 seconds left. The Packers ran the ball and the clock to 30 seconds, had a third and two, called a time out, and tried a pass that Rodgers threw away. Rodgers was blowing mad on the sideline and let LaFleur have it with an f-bomb tirade. But his chances of stealing a victory were still ahead. The defense needed to make another stop. And they did. Overtime. The overtime question of the day: Only Mike McCarthy knows why the Cowboys made the decision to go on 4th and four while on the edge of field goal range in an overtime game while the Packers had an ailing field goal kicker. The key is Dallas gambled and lost. Every Packer fan saw the resulting pressure on Prescott and the floating incompletion. That failure gave the ball to the Packers with decent field position in OT. Two runs to Aaron Jones had the Packer offense facing a short yardage 3rd down. Most saw a run coming as the last drive failed on a short pass try.
But LaFleur and Rodgers went with a quick slant to Allan Lazard and they hit big. A thirty six yard strike that put the Packers in field goal range at the 22. One more run by Jones, a nice block by Aaron Rodgers and a face mask by Dallas set up the chip shot by Mason Crosby. A thrilling finish that must have been a gut punch to McCarthy. Not quite equal to his last chat with Mark Murphy, but tough nevertheless.