Green Bay 34, Dallas 31: Yet Another Heartbreak
Part of the storyline following the Cowboys’ 34-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs will focus on the future in Dallas.
It does look bright—at least on the offensive side of the ball. Dak Prescott showed he could handle the pressure in a playoff game, making only a few mistakes and guiding the team to what could have been a comeback for the ages. He used all of his weapons, with Zeke Elliott coming through with 125 rushing yards and Dez Bryant catching nine passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
Here’s the problem—we remember Roger Staubach because he was Captain Comeback. That title means he won his comebacks. He also won Super Bowls. We remember Troy Aikman for the same reason; he was a winner.
We do not remember Craig Morton fondly, for he could not lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl title in the two years he was at the helm. We do not remember Danny White fondly because the team lost three consecutive conference championship games under his leadership. Perhaps only one of those losses was White’s fault, but that is his legacy.
Prescott has plenty of time to develop his own legacy, but he is going to have to help elevate the Cowboys to a level higher than they have seen in more than twenty years.
Between 1970 and 1995, the Cowboys went 14-3 in divisional playoff games. Conference title games were a different matter, but the team knew how to win in the playoffs.
Since the 1996 season, the Cowboys have gone 0-5 in the divisional round. Following several of those seasons (1996, 2007, 2009, 2014), the Cowboys were considered to be favorites to reach the Super Bowl the next year. But Dallas did not even reach the playoffs in 1997, 2008, 2010, or 2015.
It looked as if the Cowboys were going to change history on Sunday thanks to a frantic fourth-quarter comeback.
The team needed that comeback because of a first-half debacle. Aaron Rodgers was on fire and so confident that he did not even buckle his chinstrap on one play. A 3-0 Dallas lead evaporated into a 21-3 deficit, and the game felt much like the 34-3 divisional-round loss at Minnesota in 2009.
But Prescott led the team to ten points near the end of the first half to cut the deficit to 21-13.
Green Bay received the ball to begin the third quarter, and the Dallas defense once again had no idea how to stop him. When Rodgers hit Jared Cook for a three-yard touchdown pass, the Packers led 28-13, and Dallas was reeling.
But Prescott did not fold. He led Dallas to two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and ran in the two-point conversion to tie the game at 28.
The Dallas defense needed a stop and appeared to catch a break when Jeff Heath picked off a pass deep in Dallas territory with less than two minutes remaining. But Anthony Brown was called for defensive pass interference, and the Packers were within field goal range.
DeMarcus Lawrence then made a play reminiscent of Larry Cole’s tackle of John Riggins in the famous 1979 game. Lawrence blasted through the left side of the Packers’ line and stuffed Ty Montgomery for a five-yard loss. The play forced the Packers to try a 56-yard field goal.
Which Mason Crosby made. We would see it again.
Prescott again drove the Cowboys back downfield. In two plays, he moved the Cowboys from their own 25 to the Green Bay 40.
Dallas chose to spike the ball with 47 seconds remaining, which turned out to be a mistake. A seven-yard pass to Cole Beasley set up a 3rd and 3, but Prescott’s pass on third down was deflected. The Cowboys had to settle for a 52-yard field goal to tie the game.
The turn of events gave Rodgers 35 seconds to drive the Packers into field-goal range.
On a play that will live in infamy, Rodgers hit Cook on a 36-yard pass play to move the ball to the Dallas 32, allowing the Packers to try a game-winning field goal.
Which Mason Crosby made.
I’m thinking that Jason Garrett’s legacy might end up being his inability to manage the clock.
Among the plays that helped set the stage for the Packers to beat the Cowboys with a last-second field goal was a spike by Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott on the team’s final drive.
A pass to Jason Witten gave the Cowboys a first down in Green Bay territory with 1:07 left to play and Prescott spiked the ball to stop the clock at that point. The Cowboys, trailing by three at the time, would move seven yards closer before a third down incompletion set up Dan Bailey’s field goal with 35 seconds left to play.
After the game, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was asked about the decision to spike the ball there rather than continue running plays and time off of the clock.
“Just felt like that was the right thing to do at the time,” Garrett said. “Keeping the timeout to be able to kick a field goal is really important if you can do it. So in those situations when you make a first down, we believe you clock it there so you keep the timeout in your back pocket. Obviously in that situation we’re trying to go down and score a touchdown so you want to keep as much time on the clock as you can. If the clock is going and you need a timeout to get yourself in field goal range you have that one still available to you.”
Garrett never needed that timeout, which obviously would have been in his pocket with or without a spike on the first down play, and he wasted a down that could have been used to try to score a touchdown. The Packers could have stopped the clock, but that would have left them without timeouts to use on their own final drive and increased the likelihood that Bailey’s kick sends the game to overtime.