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Spagnola: Rodgers Takes Your Breath Away Once Again At Bitter End

ARLINGTON, Texas – Whatta I tell you on Friday, just what did I tell you about playing this darn Aaron Rodgers, about dealing with these utterly painful Cowboys' finishes with those Green Bay Packers over these past 58 years?

         Like I'm sitting here in AT&T Stadium, watching this take place yet again on Sunday, saying to myself, really, you've got to be kidding me. Like seriously, this isn't happening again.

         And in case you missed it, here are the final three graphs of Friday's column:

So here we go, Cowboys-Packers once again. My suggestion to the Cowboys is to make sure you score Thirtysomething. Might even need 40, who knows.

And for you guys, don't totally expend yourselves early in the game. Save some breath for the end.

History tells us you just might be holding it for those final seconds.

And I'll be, you were, weren't you? And there was Rodgers taking our final breaths and those of the Cowboys away – again – systematically driving the Packers for the winning touchdown in the final minute with but 11 seconds to spare.

Packers 35, Cowboys 31, and what you had better hope is that Rodgers and the now 4-1 Packers only took the breath away from the Cowboys before 93,329 people, not seeped the life out of a season getting off to a rockier start than one would expect from a team coming off last year's 13-3, division-winning, playoff-appearance season.

 Here now is the tangible and emotional mountain the Cowboys must climb if they are to breathe life back into 2017 after what quarterback Dak Prescott called "a frustrating loss," leaving this team 2-3 at the bye, with as many losses in five games as they had all last season.

That is consecutive losses for the Cowboys for the first time since losing those final four games in the 4-12 season of 2015.

That is the third time in five games the Cowboys have given up Thirtysomething, 35 each in the past two games and 42 in the other, all losses.

That is the third time in five games an opposing running back has rushed for more than 100 yards (Packers rookie Aaron Jones, 125) after no running back did so last year. All losses.

That is the third time in five games an opponent has run for at least 160 yards on the Cowboys – ONE-SIXTY now – when only three teams last year did so for more than 100, with 114 tops.

And then there is this: The second time in as many games the Cowboys have scored at least 30 points and lost, when prior to the last Sunday's 35-30 loss to the LA Rams they had won the 16 times over the previous 53 regular-season games when they scored at least 30 points. Why, you had to go back to Dec. 15, 2013, to have found the last time the Cowboys had a lost a game scoring at least 30 points, and that was a 37-36 loss to, uh, ready for this, Green Bay.

And how about this: Not in this team's entire history have the Cowboys lost consecutive games when scoring at least 30 points. Never. Ever.

Yeah, now about climbing that mountain?

"We've got a lot of football left," Jason Witten would say.

Same from Dak: "There's a lot of football left to play."

Problem Sunday was, there was way too much football left to play out here after Prescott expertly drove the Cowboys 79 yards in 17 plays, taking 8 minutes, 43 seconds, Dak deftly covering the final 11 yards on a zone-read keeper to take that 31-28 lead.

Leaving like 1 minute, 13 seconds on the clock, and for Rodgers that might as well have been a lifetime.

You said it to yourself, too, didn't you, right? Dadgumit, too much time. You wanted your cake and to eat up more time, too, when the Cowboys were second-and-2 at the Green Bay 11 with 1:24 to play, and trailing, 28-24. You badly wanted that touchdown, but you didn't want any time left on the clock, not wanting Rodgers to have, what was it, the 35 seconds he had last year after the Cowboys tied up that playoff game – all it took for him to get the Packers into game-winning field-goal position with three seconds remaining.

But don't forget, you've got to score a touchdown, and there is no guarantee you will do so. Second guess the second down call if you want, a jump ball to Dez Bryant in the end zone that went incomplete on what sounds like was a run-pass option at the line of scrimmage, setting up the third-and-two from the 11 with 1:18 remaining. No need to get in a hurry to score there. But again, you're assuming you would.

Would you have been willing to bet, say, $50,000 on the Cowboys scoring a touchdown eventually, knowing that in the back of your mind, three plays earlier, on fourth-and-1 at the Green Bay 20, only a video replay challenge gave the Cowboys the first down at the 19 that the ruling on the field had denied? It was that close.

So, my guess is on third-and-2, the Cowboys nor Dak could have even dreamed the Packers would fall so hard for the fake to Zeke, leaving him untouched until he reached the goal line behind Witten's lead block for the go-ahead touchdown.

"For us it was important to get it in the end zone and put the pressure on 12," Dak said. "I'm going to trust my defense. This is a team game."

That brings us to this notion of Dak sliding at the 1-yard line to burn time is a great second guess. But had he done that, the Packers would have burned their final timeout to stop the clock, either there or after the Cowboys would have run on second-and-2 at the 11. Again, even if he had, there is no guarantee you are going to score. Like, what would you have done? Keep dilly-dallying around before you decide, OK, now let's go score on this play.

That's a lot easier said if all you had to do is kick a field goal for the tie or the lead. But scoring a touchdown is a different story when behind by four, no matter what you think or anyone else tells you.

"I just think you have to be careful about trying to be perfect," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "It's hard to score points in this league. It's hard to score touchdowns. It's a four-point game at that time. There's no guarantee you're going to score a touchdown there, so I think in that particular case he did the right thing."

Plus, had you told me the Cowboys defense could hold the Packers to 28 points – OK, should have been 30 if Mason Crosby and holder Justin Vogel had coordinated better on those two missed extra points – then I'd have told you the Cowboys would have won that game. And guess what, they would have.

But just like last week, the Packers made the play to turn this game around, er, the Cowboys botched a play that in the end came back to bite them in the hiney:

Dak's pass bouncing off Terrance Williams' chest and into the hands of Damarious Randall at the Cowboys 21, the Pack cornerback sauntering in for the touchdown to give Green Bay the 28-24 lead with 9:56 to play.

Come on, Rodgers don't need no help.

And there was this play, too, that sticks like Gorilla Glue in my mind:

Cowboys up 21-15 with 6:58 left in the third quarter, the Packers second-and-4 at their own 18 when DeMarcus Lawrence was hanging onto to Rodgers leg at the 2 for dear life when he just wouldn't go down. One of two things could have been called by head referee Terry McAuley: A sack at the two or intentional grounding on Rodgers, who managed to throw the ball away before finally going to the ground.

Well, this you had to see because evidently McAuley didn't. He says he ruled Rodgers was in-the-grasp, so a sack, no grounding. But on top of that, then he called a personal foul on Benson Mayowa for a late hit on Rodgers. Problem was, no one heard a whistle blowing the play dead, and on top of that, Mayowa's dive to hit Rodgers as he eventually went down missed, went right over the Green Bay quarterback. Did not contact him with his helmet.

Go look at a stop-action of the play. You can see behind the play, clear as day, McAuley's cheeks puffed out, meaning blowing the whistle, as his arms are coming around, signifying the play is dead. Problem is, Mayowa already is on top of Rodgers, who already is down.

Then, after all that, here comes the flag, most everyone – but him – figuring he was calling the intentional grounding, which it was. But oh no, in-the-grasp and a late hit. Seriously.

So instead of it being third-and-20 at the 2, the 15-yard penalty marched off from the 2 gave Green Bay a first-and-10 at the 17, resuscitating the Packers' eventual 14-play, 88-yard drive, giving them a 22-21 lead on Rodgers' 10-yard TD pass to Jordy Nelson. Would love to see the answer the Cowboys get when they turn that play into the league office.

My guess is, unless the league gives it an oops, Garrett's face will turn redder than it was on the sideline when barking at McAuley's explanation.

The next worst part of all this, the Cowboys played the pants off the Packers offensively:

The Cowboys matched the Packers, four touchdowns and one field goal each.

The Cowboys gained more total yards, 408 to 342.

The Cowboys rushed for more yards, 163 to 160.

The Cowboys threw for more gross yards, 251 to 221.

The Cowboys converted 58 percent of their third-down opportunities (7 of 12) to the Packers' 43 percent (3 of 7).

The Cowboys ran 14 more plays and owned the time of possession, Cowboys 35:06, Packers 24:54.

Yet they lost. Again. Two straight.

Shut up.

Yep, I know, another chapter in those cruel and unusual punishing finishes administered by the Packers in the now 36-game history of the two teams, including the playoffs. The 1966 NFL Championship Game. The 1967 NFL Championship Game. The 2014 divisional round Playoff game. The 2016 divisional round playoff game.

And now this.

Yet another breath-stopping gut punch to the Cowboys.

And you, too.

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