It was a throwback sort of game, just not in the way Green Bay was hoping.
On a warm October afternoon, with the Packers decked out in the old-school navy and gold worn from 1927 through 1948 and first brought back during the 1994 season, a kid from Mississippi in a No. 4 jersey was running around the field making plays and leading his team to victory.
It could’ve been a fitting tribute to recently minted Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre – the original Mississippi kid who made that number famous from 1992 through 2007 while returning the title to Titletown. Favre was back in Green Bay for a halftime celebration that featured the unveiling of his name among the team’s all-time greats on the Ring of Honor inside Lambeau Field.
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Unfortunately, that “kid” wearing No. 4 this Sunday was Dallas Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.
Prescott – who ran over to shake Favre’s hand as they crossed paths before the start of the second half -- looked like the young gunslinger at times, firing away for 247 yards and three touchdowns on 18-for-27 passing. He also tossed an interception and had a ball knocked out of his hand for a fumble – two plays also reminiscent of Favre. Of bigger concern, however, was that Prescott clearly outplayed quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had 294 passing yards but just one touchdown to go with an interception and two fumbles in a 30-16 loss to the Cowboys.
Prescott finished with a quarterback rating of 117.4, while Rodgers posted 90.8. In 15 of his last 16 games (including playoffs), Rodgers has missed the century mark. As Rodgers goes, so goes the Packers’ offense. Right now, it’s going through a rough patch, hovering near the bottom of the NFL rankings at No. 27 in total offense and No. 29 in passing offense entering the game.
“I think it's like anything with the quarterback. When things go great, he gets a ton of credit, and when they don't, obviously a lot of it falls on him,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Hey, this was definitely not his best day. Taking care of the football is a priority for every quarterback in the game of football. We all understand that and we'll continue to work. But as far as big picture, each and every day, the work ethic and all those things, I have great confidence that we'll learn from this experience.”
As Green Bay’s offense stalled early and settled for two Mason Crosby field goals through two quarters, Prescott led his team on two bookend scoring drives. He capped a 10-play drive to open the game with a 1-yard toss to Cole Beasley in the left flat, who dove in ahead of a charging Micah Hyde. Then, with just a minute remaining in the half and Dallas starting at its 3-yard line, Prescott covered more than half the field on two plays. First, he found Terrance Williams for a gain of 42 when cornerback LaDarius Gunter bit on a double move. Then, Prescott went after Gunter again with a perfect 20-yard scoring strike to Brice Butler in the corner of the end zone with 31 seconds remaining.
“That was big for us at the end of the half, knowing that they got the ball to start the second half, to kind of take some of the momentum back.” Prescott said.
In truth, the momentum never materialized. Eddie Lacy rushed for 18 yards in five of seven plays to open the Packers’ initial drive of the third quarter. Then on second-and-8 at the Dallas 46, Rodgers inexplicably threw the ball right to Dallas safety Barry Church, who had rotated over at the snap.
“I never saw him,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, threw it right in his chest. Yeah, I never saw him. I was looking backside to (Davante Adams) and then to Randall. Peeked out to Jordy and didn’t feel him there.”
Dallas would parlay good field position into three points from kicker Dan Bailey and a 20-6 lead. Green Bay’s next possession was its most promising to that point. Rodgers was 6-for-7 for 52 yards and took his team down to the Dallas 1 on a 14-yard throw to Ty Montgomery. But on a day when few things went right, Rodgers was hit by Dallas defensive lineman David Irving and fumbled. Irving recovered to end the drive. It was one of three fumbles he caused on the day.
Prescott gave the ball right back to Green Bay when he threw it to safety Morgan Burnett, who caught it at the Dallas 16. It was the first interception of the season for the former Mississippi State signal-caller, but he had already set an NFL record for the most pass attempts to start a career without an interception. But again, Green Bay could only muster a field goal despite the starting field position, and again Prescott answered with touchdown drive. His third scoring drive of the day was highlighted by a 35-yard pass to Lucky Whitehead and ended with a 4-yard throw to Beasley put Dallas up 27-6.
“Today is actually the first time I ever met Dak,” Favre said at halftime, with Green Bay trailing 17-6. “I think we all can agree that kid’s playing outstanding. And I told him that. I said I’m extremely impressed. And there’s still a half to play, but I thought coming in that it would be too big for him for this game. Playing at home’s a little different. And I give him a tremendous amount of credit. I don’t know what’s happening here in the second half but the kid’s playing incredible and I think everyone is surprised or shocked.”
Or even shell-shocked. The Packers’ defense came into the game ranked No. 1 against the run but struggled mightily stopping Prescott’s rookie teammate, Ezekiel Elliot, who rushed 28 times for 157 yards and caught two passes for 17 yards. Prescott received the benefit of facing a defensive unit whose No. 1 job was to stop the run. It’s fair to say he made the most of it. Meanwhile, playing with a thin running back corps, his lead back nursing a sore ankle and a receiver taking snaps in the backfield, Rodgers had no such luxury. But the team’s offensive struggles – including their quarterback’s -- have been a recurring theme through five games.
For whatever it might be worth to him, the player Rodgers replaced – and one who dealt with his own share of criticism throughout a star-studded career -- remained supportive.
“I’ll take Aaron Rodgers any day. And that hasn’t changed,” Favre said. “I’ve said that before and I’ll say it again. When he’s sort of off, I guess, from the expert’s standpoint, it’s still better than mine. His lulls, I think, are pretty doggone good, you know? And I don’t see any reason that would change. I look at it from, if I was starting a team, who would I take? I’d take Aaron Rodgers.”
So with Chicago coming to town in just four days, Rodgers said he’ll head home, have a glass of scotch, chill out and watch the film. There’s barely time for much else.
“I’m my biggest critic, and I look at this as finely as I look at every other game and improve,” he said. “It was close. There were a couple – the one to Randall (Cobb) would have been nice to hit, and obviously the fumble down there kills us. I missed (tight end) Richard (Rodgers). Other than that, I felt better. I felt my movement was good tonight, I felt the line blocked really well. We’ve got to do a better job of hitting the ones we’re used to hitting.”
Rodgers has authored a Hall of Fame-worthy resume through his first seven years as the starter, including a Super Bowl XLV MVP and two league MVP awards. On the cliché any given Sunday, he can still rank among the league’s best. Therein lies the frustration. You have to go back to the 2014 season to find a stretch where Rodgers has consistently played to that level.
That might’ve been the better throwback season to pay tribute to on Sunday.