It was a gut-wrenching homecoming for head coach Mike McCarthy, with his Dallas Cowboys having Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on the ropes but failing to deliver the knockout punch - instead being victimized by some of Rodgers'. Let's take a look at what went wrong at Lambeau Field in this week's edition of "On 2nd Thought".
The Verdikt from 'No C': This could have and should have been a blowout victory for the Cowboys, period. I could start with the absence of Rashan Gary, Eric Stokes and De'Vondre Campbell for the Packers defense as a big reason why the field was that much more tilted toward Dallas, but personnel becomes mostly irrelevant when execution is lacking; and that's what happened to the Cowboys offense. They gifted Rodgers extra possessions via interceptions that he'd turn into 14 points - both INTs being a result of miscommunication between Dak Prescott, Dalton Schultz and CeeDee Lamb - but those TDs don't happen if the defense has even an OK game.
They didn't, though, allowing Aaron Jones and Co. to rack up more than 200 yards rushing and that kept the pass rush at bay, allowing Rodgers to take his shots. And remember that execution thing I mentioned? Well, the Cowboys secondary is hands-down better than the Packers receiving group but it didn't matter because rookie wideout Christian Watson executed like he was Megatron - to the tune of [Rodgers' only] three touchdowns. Some questionable officiating didn't help matters for Dallas, but it's also true the game should've never been close enough for the zebras to dictate the outcome.
Unsung Hero: Not every defensive player struggled on Sunday - e.g., Trevon Diggs, Sam Williams - but in a game that saw Micah Parsons unable to tee off, it was DeMarcus Lawrence who did. Lawrence was one of the few whose hair was on fire to stop the run, and that led the Packers to begin avoiding his side (and it worked). He was also an impact player for Dan Quinn's pass rush, delivering one of only two sacks on Rodgers along with a forced fumble that was recovered by safety Jayron Kearse.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys offense rewarded him/them with an interception in the end zone, to which Rodgers replied with a 58-yard touchdown to Watson. Lawrence tied the team-high in tackles (7) and did all he could to change the outcome of the game but, in a rare occurrence, he didn't get much help from defensive compatriots, a handful of them notwithstanding.
Milestone Moment: This certainly isn't a milestone the Cowboys are proud of. But Sunday's loss marks the first time in franchise history to lose a game after leading by 14 or more points entering the fourth quarter. That stopped a streak of 195 consecutive wins by the Cowboys when leading by two touchdowns or more. Granted, the Packers were able to score within the first two minutes of the fourth, making it a 7-point game until scoring again at the 2:29 mark.
Stat of the Game: Heading into Sunday's game, linebacker Luke Gifford had just one special teams tackle for the Cowboys. But now, he's sitting with six tackles, after recording five in one game against the Packers. Gifford had one of the best individual special teams performances ever, not only getting the five tackles but also recovered a fumble and was involved in a tackle that forced a fumble as well.
Kustodian's Kloset: At this point, you're listening to a broken record when it comes to the Cowboys inability to consistently stop the run. I could not have cared less about the Chicago Bears being allowed to run the ball in what was a game that was well out of hand anyway, but this is markedly different. It was a close game, and on the road in supremely hostile territory, and against an offense that proved for weeks it couldn't pass the ball effectively. The Packers fired out of the gate with Jones (and A.J. Dillon) with a mix of handoffs and shovel passes to attack the weakest points of the Cowboys run defense (the edges) and then mixed in runs up the A and B gap - just enough to keep Dallas off-balance and trying to figure out the run more than caring about the pass.
If they could've capped Jones' production, it would've been a one-dimensional game and the pass rush would've had far more opportunities to do what they do best. Instead, it became a two-dimensional attack and the Cowboys suffered a third loss because of it. Until further notice, this otherwise elite defense is going to be hammered by the opponent's run game, and that Achilles heel is what will determine how far they do or do not go in the playoffs, assuming they make it in.
And, as it stands, their gauntlet of RBs to finish out the regular season isn't exactly a cakewalk.