One also has to remember that the Packers are the youngest team in the NFL. The Packers can still finish the 2007 season with an excellent record and also the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. That would ensure a bye and at least one divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field.
Let's take a look first at the blemishes from Thursday night. First, the offensive line did not play that well, especially in pass protection. LG Daryn Colledge was benched because of his play. Tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher both had their issues in protecting the QB. Brett Favre was hit hard and often before he was forced from the game with his elbow and non-throwing shoulder injury. Backup QB Aaron Rodgers was sacked three times. The protection has to improve down the stretch.
The other thing that didn't make sense offensively, were all the deep throws, especially when Favre was still in the game. I know that Packer coaching staff thought the plays might be there, but they were actually there in the second option of those plays. Unfortunately, Favre did not go to those options. Plus, he had protection issues. But the short patterns such as slants were there all day against the Dallas secondary. Rodgers used the short and medium routes very well while he was in at quarterback.
The two things that hurt the Packers defensively were lack of a consistent pass rush and coverage issues. The loss of Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Charles Woodson factored into these issues. DE Aaron Kampman was the only Packer to even come close to QB Tony Romo when he went back to pass. Romo wasn't sacked all game long, and that is the only time the Packers haven't had at least one sack in a game in 2007.
The secondary was a mess. Al Harris did not have his best game. But Harris DID strip the ball from Terrell Owens early in the game and should have been rewarded with the ball. On the NFL Network, the supervisor of officials said it should have been ruled a strip but the whistle had blown and the play was basically over. A play like that would have inspired the Packer defense for sure.
But the defense and the secondary had issues, especially most of the first half. The secondary issues were because of not getting to the coverage areas and getting fooled by play action fakes. Jarrett Bush had a tough night as he was replaced by Tramon Williams. Both Bush and Williams had key pass interference penalties, although the call on Williams was very questionable. The Packers safeties had a rough night as well, as both Atari Bigby and Nick Collins were constantly out of position on deep patterns.
Special teams had issues as well, especially in kick coverage. The Cowboys constantly had excellent field position because the Packer kick coverage units had trouble staying in their lanes. It's NEVER a good thing to see your kicker making tackles on a kickoff. And Mason Crosby definitely got some licks in because he was the last line of defense on some of the kicks. The kick return units were not that effective as well.
Now, let's look at the positives. Rodgers played a very nice game. He was 18-26 for 201 yards and a TD pass. He also scrambled for 30 yards on 5 carries. The nice pre-season that Rodgers had this summer definitely carried over into the regular season. The Packers should feel pretty secure that Rodgers can do the job when Favre isn't available and that he is definitely the heir apparent to Favre.
HB Ryan Grant also had a very nice game getting 94 yards on just 14 carries. Grant gained 62 yards of that on a 3rd and one call that the Notre Dame running back took into the end zone. Grant looks like he is the perfect back for the Packer offense, at least in terms of running the ball. Since Grant has become a starter, he is amongst the best backs in the NFL in terms of yardage.
Crosby also had a very nice game. He connected on a 47-yard field goal early in the game and also hit a 52 yard bomb late in the game. Those are the type of kicks that Crosby hasn't hit with regularity this season, even though he has a very strong leg. Crosby has to hit his kickoffs better, though.
LB A.J. Hawk had his best game of the season Thursday night. He led the Packers with seven unassisted tackles and seemed very instinctive on some plays. Hawk and Nick Barnett are playing very well right now. Hawk was on also put in a very bad position at one point during the game when he tried to cover Owens on a deep seam pattern.
The Packers never quit, even after they trailed 27-10. The Packers actually had a chance to take the lead, when they had the ball trailing only 27-24. The Packers showed resilience in their comeback effort. The Packers offense was led by Rodgers and WR Greg Jennings, who is becoming quite a TD machine. The defense settled down after a terrible first half, but couldn't quite shut out the Cowboys in the second half.
The Packers have four more games in the 2007 season. They also have 8 more days to get the injured more healthy. The Packers have to finish strong and set the table for the playoffs. The Packers must also worry about only one opponent at a time. One series at a time. One play at a time. Take what the defense gives you. Take away what the other offense gives you. Be more consistent on special teams. In other words, play smart and the winning will continue to come.