Mike McCarthy handed the play-calling duties back to himself and then handed the ball to Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
The first of those decisions wasn't a cure-all but the Green Bay Packers overpowered the Dallas Cowboys 28-7 as the running game churned out 230 yards -- the franchise's best performance since 2004.
No matter who is calling the plays for the Packers, their offense remains inconsistent. Green Bay took a 14-0 lead after touchdown passes on back-to-back possessions, punted on five consecutive possessions, then scored two touchdowns in 2 minutes to put the game away.
"I think it's really an adjustment in our process," McCarthy said of taking back the play-calling reins that he handed to Tom Clements in the offseason. "Tom and I spoke on Monday and the reality of it all is Tom has been calling it and I've been suggesting things, and we just shift gears, where I called it today and he was suggesting things. So it worked out. The decision was made because I feel as the leader of this football team, I've got to make sure we maximize all the opportunities and resources to give our team the chance to win. Personally, it didn't feel very good. It didn’t feel good at all. That's a challenge with these types of decisions, but professionally it was what I felt I needed to do."
Green Bay (9-4), coming off of last week's Hail Mary win at Detroit, won its second straight game to take a one-game lead in the NFC North. Lacy and Starks each had more than 100 yards from scrimmage. Lacy finished with 124 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and Starks collected 71 rushing yards and scored on a 13-yard catch and a 30-yard run. Green Bay finished with 230 rushing yards.
“That's a fine football team we beat,” McCarthy said. “Offensively, the balance that we were able to have I thought was key. Running the football starts up front. The adjustments that our run-blocking unit was able to make throughout the football game and handled a number of things that they threw at us was impressive.”
Regardless of the play-caller, the Packers are in better shape than the Cowboys with backup Matt Cassel at quarterback. Dallas (4-9) appears finished in the NFC East, with Washington and Philadelphia winning to improve to 6-7 and the Giants (5-7) playing on Monday. Dallas fell to 1-8 without Tony Romo, twice sidelined by broken collarbones. Cassel was 13-of-29 passing for 114 yards with one interception and a 41.5 passer rating.
“We've just got to focus on ourselves,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We had a challenge today against a good football team at their place. And I thought we did some things today to give us a chance to win late in the ballgame but we didn’t do enough. We didn’t cash in on early opportunities and then at the critical moments we didn’t do what was necessary. We need to look at ourselves and try to get better.”
One of those critical moments came in the fourth quarter. With Green Bay nursing a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Packers' offense finally mounted a drive after five consecutive punts. Starks blasted off right tackle for a gain of 11 on third-and-2 and Rodgers ran out of a sack on third-and-9 to pick up 11.
The drive appeared doomed after Lacy was dropped for minus-5 and receiver James Jones was flagged for pass interference. But on second-and-25, Starks took a draw up the middle and scored untouched from 30 yards to put the Packers in front 21-7 with 4:44 to play.
Green Bay tacked on another touchdown about two minutes later. After Dallas failed to pick up a fourth-and-4, Lacy had runs of 15 and 24 to set up his 1-yard plunge. It was the capper for a big day for Lacy, who was demoted last week for a curfew violation.
“He’s a big, strong, powerful runner,” Rodgers said. “And we’ve got to run the ball in the winter time. The ball’s a little slick at times and we need him to keep the chains moving. Eddie ran the ball really well. The importance for him is to continue to buy in every week and be great about his preparation, because athletically he’s as talented as they come for a man of his size.”
From there, it was game-over because of Green Bay's defense, which entered the game ranked sixth in points allowed. The Cowboys were just 1-of-11 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth down. Linebacker Clay Matthews had his first sack since Week 5.
Dallas cut a 14-0 deficit in half in the third quarter by taking the ball out of the hands of Cassel. Running back Darren McFadden sprinted for 45 yards on a misdirection run and backup running back Robert Turbin broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and ran for 22 to the 7. On the next play, right guard Zach Martin blocked the Packers' top two defenders -- defensive tackle Mike Daniels and linebacker Clay Matthews -- as Turbin waltzed in untouched for the score.
Dallas couldn't sustain the momentum, due in part to receiver Dez Bryant managing just one catch for 9 yards. That came even with star cornerback Sam Shields sidelined by a concussion in the second quarter and rookie first-round pick Damarious Randall taking over against the Pro Bowl receiver.
“It is what it is,” said Bryant, who changed his gloves three times. “There were some opportunities I had that I should have made, like the one in the third quarter where I am jumping and I shouldn’t even jump. That is all part of keeping your head in the game.”
Both defenses had goal-line stands in the first half, which ended with Green Bay holding a 14-0 lead.
On Dallas' opening possession, McFadden ran past safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and into the clear for a 50-yard gain to the 12. On third-and-goal from the 2, Cassel had a chance for a touchdown to Bryant but threw too high and too far behind him. Cornerback Sam Shields corralled the deflection for an interception.
Dallas' goal-line stand came on the ensuing possession. On second-and-goal from the 1, cornerback Brandon Carr pressured Rodgers into an incompletion on a naked bootleg. On third-and-goal, Starks was ruled to have scored but the play was overturned by replay. On fourth-and-goal, Rodgers' sneak was stopped by defensive tackle Nick Hayden, among others.
While the Packers didn't score, the field position set up a touchdown on their next possession. On third-and-4 from the 13, Rodgers threw a swing pass to Starks, who scored on the play.
Green Bay benefited from a replay review on the ensuing possession, with Bryant's 28-yard catch on third-and-5 being overturned.
The Packers pounced with a brisk 81-yard touchdown drive, with Rodgers converting a third-and-5 with a 16-yard scramble before hitting Jones for 16, receiver Randall Cobb for 14 and fullback John Kuhn for 14 more.
On second-and-goal from the 3, the Packers lined up with a run-heavy formation. Rodgers faked the handoff to Lacy and found tight end Richard Rodgers alone for the touchdown.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.