This was not one of those games – at least not until the Packers' defense decided to firmly take matters into its own hands. Until early in the fourth quarter, the scoreboard still read a paltry 3-0. It was a snoozer, the Resistible Force vs. the Movable Object.
Actually, the defense made life miserable for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo slowly but steadily throughout the game. With the cagey Charles Woodson leading the charge with a sack, two forced fumbles and a backbreaking interception at the Packers' 1-yard line to kill a desperate Cowboys drive, Green Bay simply threw sand into the gears of the Cowboys' offensive machine. They blitzed. They harassed. They came from all sides. All told, the Packers sacked Romo five times and pressured Dallas into three turnovers. They didn't allow the Cowboys to convert a third down until the fourth quarter.
"It seemed like the guys had a lot of passion out there today," said Woodson. "Where it came from, I don't know, but we were happy to have it and we got a big win for this team. We've got to have that passion every week and it's got to show up on the field."
This game was certainly no happy Wisconsin homecoming for Burlington's own Romo, who led an offense that failed to gain a single first down for five consecutive series in the second and third quarters.
"Their defense is good," a tired and disappointed Romo said. "They have a good scheme. I don't know why we made so many mistakes but you have to credit 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 that happen."
The Packers can relate. They've had to look themselves in the mirror all week after their debacle in Tampa Bay.
"It was a big game for us and I say it was a must-win," said safety Nick Collins, whose first-quarter sack forced the Cowboys to try a 38-yard field goal that sailed wide to the left. "This was an opportunity for us to go out there in a ‘showtime' game and show our skills. We went out there and were aggressive and were having fun."
Collins flashed a wide smile when asked if defensive coordinator Dom Capers let the dogs out for this game. "You could say that," Collins said. "We did what we had to do to win the game."
"Pressure was huge," added Nick Barnett, who matched his career high with two sacks while frequently working in tandem with fellow inside linebacker A.J. Hawk. "We got great calls from Capers. We got some great pressures from our upfront guys and we were just sticking to what we do. We weren't trying to do too much out of our jobs and we continued to work hard and it paid off for us. I think this was the most we've blitzed but we were in great field position and we had the opportunity to do those things. This is the way this defense is supposed to look."
If Capers made a conscious decision to blitz more for this game, he wasn't saying so afterward.
"I don't know that we called any more," Capers said. "I think it was more effective. We were able to get some good inside pressure -- immediate pressure -- and we got pressure off the edge. I think it started with getting the game to where it was one-dimensional. Once it was one-dimensional, our pressure started working; not only the sacks but the effect in terms of being able to be disruptive."
Capers pointed out that shutting down the Dallas running game was crucial, just like it always is with his game plans. Green Bay held Marion Barber to a measly 26 yards in five carries and the entire team to just 61 yards. Dallas didn't fare much better through the airways, either. Romo's lone touchdown pass was too little, way too late.
"It starts with playing the run," Capers explained. "If we can play the run like that, I've always felt that the sacks and the numbers come. I've seen it happen before. Today we just happened to get there and we were able to make big plays. Against a team like the Cowboys, you have to make those impact plays, keep them out of the end zone because they've got a lot of explosive players.
Linebacker Clay Matthews III was plenty disruptive, registering a sack and recovering two big fumbles. Did he sense a brighter green light to blitz tonight?
"Honestly, not really," Matthews said after using his quickness to beat mountainous left tackle Flozell Adams repeatedly. "That's the way the defense should be run, you know? Three-and-out every time, shut down the run on first and second down, make them pass deep in the pocket and hold the ball with our defensive backs doing a great job, and we're supposed to get after ‘em. We've had flashes of brilliance and times when we've looked poor. This is definitely, hopefully, a foreshadowing of what we can continue to do. We're up there as far as takeaways, yards per game, points per game – signs of a great defense. But we need to continue that week in and week out and I think everything will turn out alright."
To be sure, Packers fans had to be scratching their heads. How could the Packers have looked so bad against the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week and then bring so much heat against the surging Cowboys while without top pass-rusher Aaron Kampman? What was the difference?
"You know what? I don't know and don't really care where it came from," Woodson said. "But hopefully, this week being a prime time game, maybe that's what it was, I don't know. But next week, we got to bring the same intensity to the field."
The San Francisco 49ers will be waiting.