The Green Bay Packers salvaged their playoff hopes with a playoff-worthy performance over one of the hottest teams in the NFL.
Led by a blitzing, attacking defense that suffocated the big-play Cowboys offense before finally getting some breathing room with two quick fourth-quarter touchdowns, the Packers upset Dallas 17-7 on Sunday evening at Lambeau Field.
With the win, Green Bay snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 5-4. Just as importantly, the Packers improved to 4-3 in conference play, which is a key tiebreaker. The Packers are one of four teams sporting 5-4 records in pursuit of the two wild-card spots, joining Philadelphia, the New York Giants and Atlanta. San Francisco, which is 4-5, comes to Lambeau Field next week.
The Cowboys failed to reach 200 yards until the final 6 minutes of the game, and the Packers' shaky offensive line got its act together for one pivotal 15-play scoring drive that put Green Bay (5-4) in charge and back into the playoff chase.
The Packers took the ball at the 20-yard line and 6:50 remaining in the third quarter. With Green Bay leading 3-0, it seemed like the unlikeliest time for the longest scoring drive (in terms of plays) of the season. But with Aaron Rodgers threading the needle to Greg Jennings on third-and-11 and Donald Lee on third-and-13, Green Bay got on the move. Rodgers then converted a third-and-6 with a 7-yard completion to Jordy Nelson, and Rodgers barreled in on first-and-goal from the 1 to cap a 15-play, 80-yard drive that burned 8:36 off the clock.
"He made some nice throws on that drive; real nice throws," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "The one to Greg was real nice, the one over the middle to Donald Lee was a big throw and a catch. I think he stood in very well, considering everything throughout the course of the year."
Moments later, Charles Woodson got a sack and a strip of Tony Romo, which Clay Matthews III recovered at the Dallas 3. On third-and-goal, Rodgers hit Spencer Havner for the touchdown and a 17-0 lead with 10:49 remaining.
When Woodson picked off Romo on first-and-goal midway through the final period, the game was over and Green Bay – for this week, at least – took its season off of life support.
The Packers had just taken a 10-0 lead early in the fourth quarter. On second-and-6 from the 32, the Packers dialed up a blitz. Right outside linebacker Clay Matthews III lined up over the right tackle, as he typically does, but just before the snap, he bounced one gap to the outside and cornerback Charles Woodson blitzed from where Matthews had been lined up. Dallas blocked Matthews but not Woodson, and he nailed Romo in the back for a sack and fumble. Matthews recovered at the Cowboys' 3 to set up another touchdown and a 17-0 lead.
Charles Woodson had a remarkable game. The Packers forced three turnovers, and he had a hand in all three. His strip of Roy Williams wiped out a big gain – and possibly prevented a touchdown – his sack of Tony Romo set up the Packers' second touchdown and his end-zone interception thwarted a potential touchdown with about 6 minutes remaining in the game.
0: The Cowboys, with one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, were 0-for-7 on third downs through the first three quarters.
"You know, you feel like you have your finger on the pulse of your football team," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We had a very good week of practice. They were very quiet and focused before the game. And I'm done trying to figure that out. I'd like to be able to sit here and tell you exactly how they were going to play tonight, but they were definitely focused. They played with incredible energy and passion."
The other things you need to know
-- Why weren't the Cowboys allowed to challenge when it looked pretty clear that they had recovered the ball – only to have it stripped by Johnny Jolly – on Charles Woodson's sack and strip? "Dallas was challenging that their player had recovered the football loose in the field of play and was down by contact," referee Jeff Triplette explained. "My mistake. That's not a reviewable aspect of a play. A recovery of a loose ball in the field of play is not reviewable by rule. So, we just couldn't review it."
-- Dallas entered with the NFL's third-ranked offense but finished with 282 yards – most of the garbage variety in the fourth quarter. Green Bay has held four of nine opponents to less than 300 yards.
-- Even with the game 0-0 or 3-0 for the first three quarters, the Cowboys only gave it to their dynamic running backs 11 times (for 45 yards).
-- Dallas had won four consecutive games, and Tony Romo was 2-0 against his home-state team – including winning here last season. "Their defense is good," Romo said. "They have a good scheme. I don't know why we made so many mistakes, but you have to give credit to Green Bay. We are all going to look at ourselves and learn from the negatives today and we will use it to improve. It is disappointing that it takes a loss in a tough game like this to have it happen.
-- The Packers entered the game with just 13 sacks – good for 29th in the league – but racked up five against Dallas. Nick Barnett had two, and Charles Woodson, Nick Collins and Clay Matthews III had one apiece.
-- Linebacker Brandon Chillar was active after missing last week with a broken hand but did not play.
-- The Packers have forced at least one turnover in 11 straight games. Only Houston (15) has a longer streak.
-- Left guard Daryn Colledge exited for a series in the second quarter with an ankle bruise but returned. He was replaced for those few plays by Evan Dietrich-Smith. That was the only injury reported by coach Mike McCarthy. Dallas lost right tackle Marc Colombo to a broken leg.
-- Before Sunday, Green Bay's longest scoring drive had covered 11 plays.
-- Other than resting for the regular-season finale in 2007, Aaron Kampman had started 97 consecutive games. He missed Sunday with a concussion. In his place, Brad Jones had seven tackles, including one for a loss.
-- Dallas sacked Aaron Rodgers four times but for losses of only 11 yards. DeMarcus Ware had two of them.