It had every right to be built up as a matchup of the NFC's best teams. Instead, it may have shown just how much better the Dallas Cowboys are than everyone else in the NFC — including the Packers.
Coming off of a convincing win at Cleveland in the opener and a shootout victory against division rival Philadelphia last Monday night, the Cowboys came to Lambeau Field against the 2-0 Packers, and walked out with a sound 27-16 victory in a "measuring stick" game. Perhaps Packers coach Mike McCarthy made the night's best assessment.
"The Dallas Cowboys are further ahead than we are right now," he said. "That's the facts and that's Week 3. How far ahead, time will answer that question."
Time might not matter. As good as the Cowboys look on paper, they are even better on the field. They can win games on the ground and through the air. They can win games with their pass rush and their pass defense. And they can win games with rookies or with Pro Bowlers.
On Sunday night, the Packers had every intention of staking a claim to being regarded as the NFC's best. They were off to an undefeated start looking every bit the 13-3 team they were a year ago, even without Brett Favre.
Then the Cowboys gave them a resounding wake-up call.
Even with a good defensive effort and game plan, the Packers were no match for the Cowboys. Though their defense consistently showed good energy, even after several injuries disrupted their rhythm and substitutions, Marion Barber was able to pound out 142 yards on 28 carries. Though the offense was turnover-free after an early fumble by Ryan Grant, the explosive plays were few and far between, unlike the first two weeks of the season.
"They played well as a team," Packers safety Aaron Rouse said. "I really don't really think one person stood out. That's why they won the game."
For the most part, the Packers held the Cowboys' superstars in check. Wide receiver Terrell Owens had just two catches for 17 yards, and tight end Jason Witten had seven catches, but only two went for first downs. Quarterback Tony Romo completed just more than 50 percent of his passes (17-for-30) and was intercepted in the end zone by safety Nick Collins in the first quarter to kill a long drive.
So, just how did the Cowboys manage to build an 18-point lead deep into the fourth quarter? By exposing some of the Packers' weaknesses like only the truly good teams can.
Of particular note was how the Cowboys controlled the line of scrimmage. They tried to wear down a Packers defensive line thin on depth and did a pretty good job of it. By game's end, they had amassed 217 yards rushing on 35 carries (against only 31 passes).
The Cowboys took advantage of the Packers' suspect backups in the secondary after Al Harris left the game for good early in the second quarter because of blood in his urine. Normal nickel back Tramon Williams was beaten down the right sideline by Miles Austin for a 52-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, and safety Charlie Peprah, seeing his first extensive action on defense in three years with the Packers, was faked out badly by Felix Jones on the rookie's 60-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
The Packers again had penalty issues, too. They had eight in what is becoming a frustrating trend. Through three games, 28 penalties have been walked off against Green Bay.
Throw in some poor pass protection against Cowboys' blitzes, and the Packers have plenty of issues to address.
"They're 3-0," began Donald Driver, "but I think we made the mistakes to lose the game. I told you guys before, there's only one team that can beat us. That's ourselves, and we beat ourselves tonight."
Added Williams: "I know we're a lot better than the way we played tonight."
Williams might be right, but the Packers are a long way from the Cowboys — as is the rest of the conference.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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