CSI: Cowboys, Episode 3 – Aaron Rodgers’ Dissection of Dallas’ Defense
Same song, different verse. Ten months after carving up the Cowboys defense for a Packers’ game-winning drive in the Divisional Round Playoff Game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers returned to the scene of the crime…and did the same thing again!
To borrow a phrase from Yogi Berra, it’s déjà vu all over again as Rodgers engineered a Packers’ victory. This time around, instead of setting up a last-second field goal, Rodgers threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams’ with :11 remaining to give the Pack a dramatic 35-31 win.
Here are my 5 Sideline Observations from a thrilling, back-and-forth, emotional rollercoaster of a game at AT&T Stadium.
Michael Ainsworth via AP
Aaron Rodgers’ Legs Were Just as Important as His Arm in the Game-Winning Drive
The Cowboys defense sacked Rodgers four times. When forced to scramble, the defense had limited the mobile Rodgers to 14 yards on 3 runs. But that was before the final drive. When the game was on the line, the defense couldn’t get to Rodgers. Facing 3rd and 8 at the Cowboys’ 30-yard line and no timeouts, Rodgers dropped back to pass. The pocket started to squeeze as defensive tackle David Irving applied pressure up the middle and Benson Mayowa rushed from right defensive end. Unable to find a target downfield, Rodgers broke the pocket and started running. Both Mayowa and Irving had shots to take him down, but Rodgers scrambled to his left and not only picked up a 1st down, but also stopped the clock by running out of bounds. Rodgers’ legs put the Packers’ first-and 10 at the 12 yard line with :21 to play. Two plays later, he threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Davante Adams, a 12-yard back-shoulder strike with :11 second left in the game.
The entire drive, but especially the 18-yard scramble, was vintage Rodgers. Was there any doubt in the minds of any Packer player or Packer fan that Rodgers would lead his offense down the field? The guy is a surgeon in the way he dissects a defense. Maybe the better term is “vivisects” a defense. That’s what it felt like on the Cowboys’ sideline. The team played its guts out for 59 minutes, but Rodgers made the crucial plays when he needed to…just like he always seems to do against the Cowboys.
Davante Adams – Fast Healer
Packers receiver Davante Adams caught two touchdown passes, including the game-winner. His accomplishments are especially impressive considering that 10 nights earlier, he was in a hospital room after taking a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan during the Packers’ Week 4 win on Thursday Night Football. Adams suffered a concussion on that play.
“It’s just something about those concussions, I guess,” Adams said after his heroics in beating the Cowboys. “God allowed me to come out here and play to the best of my abilities. Obviously it was a great win for us and I’m just happy that I came out healthy.”
Adams’ game-winning catch came on second down. A play earlier, Cowboys rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis made a big play, breaking up a pass in the end zone. But Rodgers came right back to Adams/Lewis.
“I came back (to the huddle) and said, ‘Do it again, let’s go back to it,” noted Adams. “(Rodgers) gave me a look. I said, ‘Let’s do it again’. He threw it over there. He threw a perfect ball and I really didn’t have to do much. He makes my job easy. (The second ball) was just a little higher. I looked a little earlier so I could locate it. The first one, I was kind of running a little long and I allowed it get inside more.”
The pass/catch was perfectly executed. After the score, Lewis was consoled by teammates. That’s life in the NFL. On subsequent plays, Lewis went from a huge pass breakup to being on the wrong end of a game-winner
Postgame, Lewis said he didn’t feel as though Rodgers was trying to pick on him as a rookie, and he tipped his cap to the Packers’ duo.
“It was the flow of the game, (Rodgers) wanted to go to 17 (Adams),” said Lewis. “ It was a great throw and catch. He placed the ball exactly where it had to be. I tried to make a play on the ball, turned my head around late. So, it was a great play.”
Tom Hauck via AP
Michael Ainsworth via AP
Losing the Turnover Battle
This is an all-too-familiar refrain, but the Cowboys defense gave up a lead in the second half, and couldn’t make a big stop in the closing moments of the game. Also, they did not generate a takeaway on Sunday. The Cowboys lost the turnover battle. There was only one turnover in the game, and it was a doozy. Cowboys receiver Terrance Williams had a short pass go through his hands and bounce off his shoulder pads. The ball deflected directly to Packers cornerback Damarious Randall who returned the interception 21 yards for a touchdown to give Green Bay a 28-24 lead with 9:56 remaining in the 4th quarter. It was a crucial play, and a big gaffe by Williams who finished the game with a measly 14 receiving yards.
This was the third consecutive game in which the Cowboys defense failed to record a takeaway. When teams are evenly matched and games are close, the turnover battle is a key factor. Lose the turnover battle and you usually lose the game.
James D. Smith via AP
Taking Heat on Play-Calling
Everybody was thinking the same thing when Dak Prescott scored a go-ahead touchdown on an 11-yard run with 1:13 left to play: “We scored too fast…there’s too much time left on the clock for Aaron Rodgers!!!”. But for those Monday Morning Quarterbacks who think Dak should have slid short of the goal line to keep the clock rolling, think again. When you have a chance to score, you score. Period.
“You’re playing with fire doing that (downing yourself short of the goal line),” said Dak. “Those guys get paid on defense, too. If you’re running down and you’re trying to get it to third down, you’re wasting the time. It’s a slippery slope. For us, it’s important to get in the end zone and put the pressure on them…I’m going to trust my defense. This is a team game. There are 11 guys on each side of the ball, every time. I’m going to trust those guys on defense to make a play. It is important for us on offense to get that score and put the pressure on 12 (Rodgers).”
Now, if you want to question the earlier play call on 2nd and 2 at the Packers’ 12-yard line with 1:24 to play, I’m with you. The pass was incomplete to Dez Bryant in the end zone. The incompletion stopped the clock and saved the Packers a timeout. By the way, you’re not alone. Team owner Jerry Jones was questioning the call after the game when he spoke with reporters outside the Cowboys’ locker room.
Offense Showing Signs of Life
I know that nobody wants to hear this after a loss, but the Cowboys offense is showing signs of life. The running game got going. Zeke ran for 116 yards. Dak was magnificent. Dak threw 3 touchdown passes and scored on a touchdown run to put his team ahead with 1:13 left on the clock. Cole Beasley got involved big-time after having a quiet month of September. Dak’s first 2 touchdown passes went to Beasley (2 yards, 5 yards). Dez got in-the-action with a 10-yard touchdown catch in the 2nd quarter. Brice Butler had a couple of big catches, including a 49-yarder in the opening series. Heck, even fullback Keith Smith and backup running back Rod Smith had big catches for 1st downs. Witten led the team with 8 catches. Dak certainly spread the ball around and utilized his weapons.
Unfortunately, it’s going to be hard to carry that momentum forward. The Cowboys are now in their bye week…and the “bye” seems to last longer than a week when your team loses (especially in heartbreaking fashion). And to make matters worse, the Eagles won on Sunday which means the Cowboys, who fall to 2-3 after the loss, enter their bye weekend trailing the Eagles by 2 games in the NFC East.
The Cowboys’ chance to make up some ground in the standings will come on October 22nd during a road trip to Santa Clara to play the 49ers.
James D. Smith via AP