The Cowboys proved they are the class of the NFC with a commanding 27-16 victory on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
Everything was set up for Green Bay to seize early control of the conference race in this nationally televised battle of 2-0 teams. The Packers were playing in front of the largest crowd in Lambeau Field's regular-season history. Aaron Rodgers and Co. were riding high offensively, and the defense had made critical plays in both victories.
But the Cowboys – tested severely by rival Philadelphia on Monday night and coming to Green Bay on a short week – were simply too big, too tough and too good.
With Marion Barber supplying the power and Terrell Owens merely just another guy on the field, the Cowboys rushed for 217 yards in a clock-controlling show of dominance. And the Cowboys' defense, lit up for 337 yards and 37 points by the Eagles, were prepared for the athletic dimension Rodgers had added to the Packers' attack.
"It was really a big win," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "We certainly made some mistakes, but I thought our team played with a lot of heart like they have."
Rodgers, who entered the game as the league's fifth-rated passer, was held to 9-of-15 passing for 144 yards through three quarters, when the score remained close. The Cowboys applied plenty of pressure with five sacks, and while Rodgers burned the Vikings' and Lions' defenses in the first two games, he didn't have the magic on this night.
"It's disappointing. You'd like to win them all, obviously, but Dallas is a good football team," Rodgers said.
The Packers survived at halftime, behind just 13-6, against the bigger, more physical Cowboys. Barber got the ball on almost as many snaps (15 rushes, three receptions) as the Packers ran total plays (23). If not for a huge end-zone interception by Nick Collins and a critical 16-yard sack by Cullen Jenkins once Dallas reached the Packers' 5-yard line late in the half, the game could have been over at intermission.
The Cowboys took a 10-6 lead midway through the second quarter when rookie Felix Jones, the lightning to sledgehammer Barber's super-cell thunder, burst around left end for a 60-yard touchdown. It was a huge defensive breakdown for the Packers, with no outside contain once Jones got past the line of scrimmage. The first-round pick ran through a diving arm tackle by Charles Woodson and easily outran backup safety Charlie Peprah, then got an escort from Terrell Owens to the end zone.
The Packers went three-and-out on the next series – DeMarcus Ware blew past Mark Tauscher to ruin a third-and-3 pass play. The Cowboys took over at midfield, and moved into scoring position on a 22-yard completion to Jason Witten on third-and-5. Barber converted third-and-1, then caught a 6-yard pass from Romo to move the ball to Green Bay's 5. But Jenkins bailed out the defense with his big sack of Romo, and Dallas had to settle for a field goal to lead 13-6.
The Packers cut it to 13-9 on their first possession of the third quarter, but that field goal was a bitter consolation prize after Rodgers hit Donald driver for 50 yards to the Dallas 8 on third-and-5. After a short run by Ryan Grant on first down, Rodgers was sacked on the next two plays to deny the Packers a game-tying touchdown.
Whatever momentum the Packers had gained, the Cowboys wrested away emphatically. That steady first-half diet of Barber set up the play of the game. On a play-action fake, Romo had all day and found Austin Miles running wide open down the middle of the field. Tramon Williams dropped initial coverage, and when Collins slipped, Austin was off to the races. A 63-yard completion set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Barber that made it 20-9 with 2:53 left in the quarter.
The coup de grace came on third-and-20 with about 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter, when Romo found Austin deep for a 52-yard touchdown over Williams, who complained of a push-off even before Austin crossed the goal line with the killer touchdown.
So, three weeks into the season, Dallas – not Green Bay – is the class of the NFC. But it's early, as Romo was quick to point out.
"We have a good football team, I know that," Romo said. "But it doesn't matter if you are the favorite now or the least favorite. You have to keep playing football games. You aren't trying to be the favorite in Week 3. You are trying to be there at the end of the year."
Meanwhile, Green Bay goes back to work next week at Tampa Bay (2-1).
"The reality is, it's the third game of the season," McCarthy said. "It's a big game. It's a great measuring stick for our football team. I'll tell you exactly what I told them: The Dallas Cowboys are further ahead than we are. That's the facts. That's Week 3. How far ahead, time will answer that question? We have work to do. We need to get the things fixed tomorrow."