ARLINGTON, Texas – As the great Dandy Don Meredith once said, "if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a Merry Christmas."
If the Cowboys offense hadn't again struggled to score touchdowns, settling for field goals instead. … Ask Green Bay about offensive woes. Despite being outgained 332-132 after two quarters of play, the Packers made adjustments and outgained Dallas in the second half, 301-134.
But the Cowboys defense has been decimated by injuries. … Ask the Packers about their injury situation, which included Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers unable to play.
Add it all up and the Cowboys somehow found a way to collapse, 37-36, in front of a crowd of 91,054 fans, a good portion of which went home happy, sporting green and gold after Tony Romo threw two interceptions in the final three minutes of the game.
"We didn't get it done in the second half and that's on everybody," said head coach Jason Garrett. "None of us got the job done. We have to live with that reality."
Indeed, if the Cowboys had taken care of business today – against a team that in its last six games had lost four, tied one and earned its only victory against the last-place Falcons – Dallas would have moved back into a tie for first place in the NFC East, back in the driver's seat for the division title after the Eagles lost Sunday.
Instead, they blew a 26-3 lead at halftime, surrendering 14 points in the third quarter and 20 in the fourth in the deflating defeat.
"Obviously, if Philadelphia would have won today, it would have been an even worse feeling if that's possible," Romo said. "You go out and win the next two games, and I think ultimately this game will be a little easier to swallow. But right now, it's not, and it won't be for a while."
Already without starting linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter for the game, the unit took a further hit when Jason Durant reinjured his hamstring in the first quarter and did not return. Then on the last play of the first half, Ernie Sims went down with a left hip injury, leaving the likes of Cameron Lawrence DeVonte Holloman and Kyle Bosworth to play with the Cowboys' first-string defense.
They could do little to stop Green Bay over the final 30 minutes of game time as Packers fill-in quarterback Matt Flynn tossed four touchdowns, completing 26-of-39 attempts for 299 yards on the day. As feared, Eddie Lacy also ran wild, racking up 141 yards on the ground on 21 carries.
This doesn't all fall on the defense, however. The offense was again inefficient, settling for five field goals in the game, leading many to ask just where this team might be if Dan Bailey wasn't on the roster.
Romo finished with 358 yards through the air, connecting on 29-of-48 passes, and threw two touchdowns. But, he had two backbreaking interceptions in the fourth quarter, the first leading to the go-ahead points and the second securing the win for Green Bay.
"You're always angry after you lose," Romo said. "You're always disappointed, frustrated and all that stuff. You have to figure out how to do better."
Dez Bryant was a workhorse from his wideout position, hauling in 11 passes for 153 yards and a score while Jason Witten also hit paydirt, catching four balls for 71 yards. And even though the Cowboys seemed to abandon the running game at times (for reasons unknown), DeMarco Murray still totaled 153 yards on the game and now sits on the doorstep of becoming the first 1,000-yard rusher for Dallas since Julius Jones did so in 2006.
The Cowboys looked good through the first quarter, putting up points on each of their first three possessions with big plays helping each series. On the first, Murray broke loose for 27 yards to the Green Bay 30, and while the drive eventually stalled, Bailey was good from 47 yards out to give Dallas an early 3-0 lead.
After the Packers answered with a 57-yarder from Mason Crosby, the Cowboys came back with another three points of their own, this time the big gainer coming when Murray broke loose for 41 yards. But despite enjoying a first-and-goal at the Packers 9-yard line, Dallas couldn't punch it in, Bailey coming out for a chip-shot 23-yard field goal.
Finally the Cowboys found the goal line, the big play on this drive actually producing the score. Starting on his own 35-yard line, Romo worked his team to the Green Bay 25 before then finding Witten down the left seam, the tight end rumbling into the end zone for his eighth touchdown of the year, just one behind his single-season career high.
Already up 13-3, the second frame was more of the same with two field goals for Dallas followed by a touchdown.
The Cowboys dominated play, but still had trouble getting into the end zone on their first two possessions of the quarter, even after a Sterling Moore interception set the offense up at the Packers 20-yard line. But Bailey stayed true and was good from both 48 and 50 yards, to inch the Cowboys lead to 19-3.
"He was fantastic, but sometimes that is good and bad," Garrett said. "We gave him too many opportunities. We got in that fringe area a couple of times and couldn't get it through there."
That was followed by the team running the two-minute offense to perfection. Starting at their own 25 with 1:57 remaining in the half, Romo hit Bryant for 37 yards, Austin for 15, then went back to Bryant for 16 more, the receiver fighting his way down to the Green Bay 1-yard line. From there, Murray plunged up the middle for the score, the game seemingly in hand, 26-3, at the break.
But with the linebacking corps now an even bigger mess, Durant and Sims not returning for the second half, perhaps it shouldn't have come as a surprise that on the first play of the third quarter, Lacy busted loose for a 60-yard gain to the Cowboys' 20. Two snaps later and Flynn hit Jordy Nelson in the end zone for the touchdown.
The Cowboys again took a three-score lead, when the ever-trusty Bailey split the uprights again from 50 yards, but the Packers, taking advantage of Dallas' depleted defense, immediately struck back with another score. This time Flynn marched his team 80 yards in 12 plays, capping off the possession with a 3-yard pass to tight end Andrew Quarless, the score now 29-17 with just over a minute left in the third quarter.
Things went from bad to worse, though, on the Cowboys' next possession. After Terrance Williams ran the ball out from deep in his own end zone, only reaching the 15-yard line, Romo saw Murray drop a pass, couldn't connect with Hanna and then suffered a 13-yard sack. That was followed by Packers return man Micah Hyde returning the ensuing punt 26 yards, setting up Green Bay to the Dallas 22.
Shortly after the clock ticked over to the fourth quarter, Flynn threw a short pass to running back James Starks from 11 yards out, the Packers having worked all the way back to 29-24.
And then Dez did what Dez does. On a drive in which the Cowboys admittedly caught a few breaks, including an apparent interception by Tramon Williams that was overturned and a pair of costly Green Bay penalties, Witten provided a big 27-yard catch down the middle before Bryant finished off the series with a leaping catch over two Packers defenders, getting both feet in bounds for the touchdown.
Up 36-24 with just under 8 minutes remaining in the game, the Cowboys still had to stop the now potent Packers offense. They couldn't.
Green Bay came right with a 10 play, 80-yard drive, the big blow coming when Flynn hit Jarrett Boykin on a 27-yard pass down to the Dallas 7-yard line. That was soon followed by a short, 3-yard pass to Jones, the Packers not going away, 36-31.
With Green Bay clearly owning the momentum, Dallas needed to not only put points on the board, but to also take time off the clock. With 4:17 remaining when the offense took the field at its own 20yard line, they did neither.
On second-and-6 at the 35-yard line, Romo escaped some pressure, then tried to thread a ball into Austin over the middle. Instead, Packers cornerback Sam Shields stepped in front, hauling in the interception, Green Bay getting possession at the 50-yard line with 2:46 left in the game.
Just over a minute later, the Packers were in the end zone again, Lacy diving over the top for the score. After missing a two-point conversion, Green Bay had their first lead of the game 37-36.
But Dallas still had time, taking over at its 20 with 1:31 remaining. On second-and-1, though, Romo tried to throw short right to Cole Beasley, but the two seemed to miscommunicate and instead the ball went straight to Williams. And while the ruling on the field was that the cornerback dropped the ball, a video review revealed that he did in fact catch it. With that Green Bay took three knees running out the clock. [embedded_ad]
With the loss, Dallas fell to 7-7 on the season, ruining a perfect opportunity to move back into first place in the division. No matter what happens when the Cowboys take on the Redskins and the Eagles face Chicago, Dallas won't be able to clinch the NFC East next week.
The Cowboys do, however, still have a chance to win the division in the final week of the season against the Eagles if they win next week in Washington. "Definitely not a time to panic," said Brandon Carr. "Confidence will still be there. We still have a chance to get to the big dance, and that's what you play for."