Owens ended last season ranked sixth in NFL history in receptions, fifth in yards and second in touchdowns. While his skills were eroding a bit, his 69 catches for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns were practically equal with the rest of Dallas' wide receivers combined.
With Owens grabbing the popcorn and the spotlight, Dallas managed only a 9-7 record and averaged 22.6 points per game.
How would Tony Romo and the Dallas offense survive without Owens? Quite nicely, as evidenced by their 6-2 record entering Sunday afternoon's game at Green Bay. Dallas is 6-2, is averaging 27.1 points per game and has won four straight.
"Well, teams change every year," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said, downplaying the Owens decision in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday. "That's just part of pro football. We played Atlanta this year and I was at Atlanta five or six years ago and I think I knew one guy or two guys that were on the team. It's constantly changing. That's just the way the NFL and football is. You have to adapt to change."
While tight end Jason Witten remains Romo's favorite target, the Cowboys' offense is much more diversified without Owens' begging and pleading for the ball. Miles Austin has 27 receptions, Patrick Crayton 22 and Roy Williams 19.
So, while Romo is having a typical Romo season with a passer rating of 95.8, he's on pace for a career-high 4,430 yards and a career-low 10 interceptions.
"There's only one football, you know," Phillips said about Romo not being cajoled to focus on Owens. "It's hard to please everybody all the time, but our guys, I think, do a good job with it. We do move it around to different people, as the Packers do a good job of that, also."
A godsend has been Austin, who almost literally has come out of nowhere this season. The Packers know about Austin after he hauled in passes covering 63 and 52 yards in last year's 27-16 Dallas victory at Lambeau Field.
Miles Austin had two big catches at Lambeau last year.
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
But when Williams was unable to play against Kansas City in Week 5, Austin exploded for 10 catches, 250 yards and two touchdowns. A star had been born.
While casual observers of the NFL would never put Austin in the category of the Packers' Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, Austin has been more productive. While Driver (37 catches) and Jennings (34), have caught more passes, Austin (612 yards) trails Driver by 1 yard and is far ahead of Jennings (498 yards). Austin's seven touchdowns are more than Jennings and Driver combined. He has 22 receptions for 531 yards and six touchdowns over the last four games.
"Well, we've always felt like he had the potential," Phillips said. "We put a high tender on him ($1.545 million second-round tender) in the offseason so he wouldn't be a free agent. We felt like he was going to be a good player but he'd just been hindered by injuries or whatever. Once he got his opportunity, he sure took advantage of it. He's really played well, obviously."
Romo loves the home-run ball, and the 6-foot-3 Austin is that type of target. In eight games, he has five touchdown receptions of at least 42 yards — including four of at least 49 yards in the last four games.
"You know, he actually had a couple other moments (before facing Green Bay)," Romo said. "I think that pass might have been his longest catch at the time, but he's been here a while, long than people know. I think he's probably on his fourth year now but he's showed some flashes at different times throughout his career here. He was very raw when he first got here and he's been able to harness that a little bit and continue to get better and improve and you're seeing, obviously, the fruits of all his hard work."
With Austin averaging 22.7 yards per reception, Williams 17.1 and Crayton 16.6, the Cowboys have one of the game's big-play passing attacks. Romo has 20 completions of at least 25 yards, which trails only Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers (22 each) and Eli Manning (21). Plus, behind the one-two punch of physical Marion Barber and speedy Felix Jones, Dallas ranks second in the NFL in 10-yards-plus rushes with 38.
"I think this is an extremely balanced and explosive offense," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "They lead the league in yards per play, they're No. 1 in the league. I think that tells you a lot. Our defensive staff feels it's the best offense we've played to date, as far as the ability to run it and throw the football. This will be an excellent challenge for our defense this week."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.