Sullivan: Classic Finish, Elliott's Night, Big-Time Dez, More Thoughts

Some of the thoughts that run through an oversized, bald head:

• Like that, in an instant, a bitterly painful moment, it's finished. What started nearly six months ago in Oxnard, Calif., and even before that at minicamp and the OTAs, seemingly destined for a magical conclusion, is taken away with a broken route. Like two kids on the playground, Aaron Rodgers and Jared Cook, made the play. It sucks. There's no other way to explain it.

• So many plays to think about in the days and offseason to come. How did Rodgers hold on to that football when Jeff Heath absolutely crushed him? Why spike the ball with 49 seconds left, even if it was first down? Plenty of time and they still had a time out remaining. And what in the world was that inexplicable 15-yard penalty on Brice Butler about? I've been watching football for 32 years and have never seen that called, and why is it 15 yards? There wasn't a huddle at the moment anyhow.

• The locker room was church-like quiet, tough to witness. A good 20 minutes after the game, more than a dozen players having already left, Jason Witten was still in uniform with a towel over his head. He finally headed to the showers, and it was pretty clear that he had been crying. Going to be 35 years old in May and there are only so many more opportunities for his dream of a championship to become a reality. Sports can be so cruel.

• Was shocked to see Rodgers is 0-7 in overtime for his career, including 0-3 in the playoffs. He's still the best quarterback I've ever seen. Look at the numbers for Dallas: 31 points, Ezekiel Elliott 125 rushing yards, Dak Prescott 302 yards, three touchdown passes, the first rookie in NFL history to throw three in the playoffs, and a higher rating than Rodgers. Jeff Heath has an interception and a sack. And somehow, someway, the Cowboys lost. That's what the all-timers do and Rodgers came through.

• Really a classic finish. The first time in NFL playoff history to have three field goals of at least 50 yards in the final two minutes. Would have matched the largest comeback in team playoff history, too, at 18 points. Gutsy stuff. There were several in the press box saying the game was finished in the second quarter. More than likely the Cowboys were going to have to beat the top-three quarterbacks in the league to win the Super Bowl: Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady.

• For me, the game's MVP was Packers safety Micah Hyde. Wasn't even listed as a starter, but seemed like he was on the field throughout. Finished with four solo tackles, two passes defensed, a sack and a brilliant interception on a pass/run option. He confirmed after the game that he and cornerback LaDarius Gunter read the play pre-snap based on film preparation. Prescott played really well, but that was a classic rookie mistake.

[embeddedad0]

• Wasn't much pressure from the front seven so defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli decided to bring the blitz from the secondary with Orlando Scandrick, Barry Church and Heath each registering a sack. When was the last time three defensive backs had sacks from the same team in the same game. Needed a big game from David Irving and he finished with just one pressure and one tackle. DeMarcus Lawrence had a big tackle for a 5-yard loss with 1:44 remaining, but there's was not much overall from the line.

• Thought Elliott would have more than 23 touches. My guess is that he took about 100 hits on those 23 touches, though. He's a big fan of jumping out of bed early on the morning after a game. I'm not sure that was an option after this one. Must have been five or six runs where he had no business gaining two inches yet he somehow found three or four yards. And he blocks so well. Here's what I don't grasp: Why does he come off the field so often? He's an every-down back. Even if he's not getting the ball the defense has to account for him when he's on the field.

• I'm sorry, can't help myself. Does the officiating crew, does the league, really expect us to believe that no other player the last 30 years or so has done what Butler did on that call? It has to happen almost every game. Yet no one, Jason Garrett, Prescott, Jerry Jones, me, has ever seen that flagged. How is that possible? Horrendous.

• Didn't think they could win a shootout against the Packers and they almost did. This was a resilient bunch, and the chemistry was unmatched for any athletic team I've ever been around. Could see that in the locker room after the game, the hugs, the handshakes, the emotion, the love. Was told there were numerous players with tears in their eyes during Garrett's postgame speech.

• Church summed it up perfectly afterward, saying, "Thirteen wins don't mean nothing if you don't make it to the championship." This season cannot be viewed as disappointing in the least. When Tony Romo went down in the third preseason game, there isn't a fan in this world who wouldn't have taken hosting a divisional round game. Heck, probably a playoff berth, period. And Rodgers was Rodgers. Was a tough matchup for winning 13 games.

• Still, it feels like this team could have won it all, if not at least the NFC. Have to think the Cowboys have a few years with this window, especially with a healthy Jaylon Smith. Kind of feels a little like 1991, outside of that team went 11-5 and was a wild card. Still, younger group, exceeded expectations, and as we now know, they were on the cusp of greatness.

• Dez Bryant showed up like a big-time No. 1 wideout should, becoming just the 14th receiver in NFL playoff history with nine catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns in a game. And he was open a lot, could have had one of those monster games, like 12-180-3. He looked crestfallen after, walking barefoot down the back hallway of the locker room holding his red sneakers in his hand, head down.

• The penalty aside, Butler has had better games. Honestly, I think all of them. Still, he has a ton of upside going forward.

• Speaking of which, eight dropped passes the entire season and then two big ones against the Packers. Terrence Williams in the first quarter and then Butler in the end zone on probably Prescott's best pass of the game; just placed it perfectly in his hands.

• Give me Packers-Patriots in the Super Bowl. One of the few years the last decade where that wasn't my preseason prediction and it's probably going to happen, although the Falcons may have been the most impressive team this past weekend.

• First time the Packers have allowed a 100-yard rusher and won this season. They were previously 0-3. Thought there would have more seven/eight in the box looks, but for the most part, they were balanced defensively.

• Morris Claiborne was having a superb game before missing the second half with an injury to his ribs. Poor guy really can't buy a break, health-wise. Seemed headed to his first Pro Bowl before he missed the final nine regular-season games. Likely cost himself a big offseason payday in the process, which is actually good news for the Cowboys. I'd try to sign him to another one-year deal as they did last offseason.

• On the first three drives, when the Cowboys didn't blitz, Rodgers was 12-of-13 for 175 yards and a touchdown, including 3-of-3 for 55 yards on third down. That's like playing a video game against your grandfather. Green Bay's first four scoring drives were 75, 90, 80 and 75 yards. Not exactly giving them short fields.

• Sean Lee was his All-Pro self in the second half – seven tackles, two for loss – after a somewhat quiet first two quarters. He summed it up after the game: "We gave them way too many points in the first half. When you play a team like that, with a Hall of Fame quarterback, you don't have room for error."

• Mason Crosby hit a 56-yard field goal, and then hit a 51-yarder with no time left, twice actually. Sometimes just have to give a tip of the hat to the other guy. That was big-time clutch. Both teams could have easily won that game. Looking forward to watching it a second time, just seeing how many times, if that one play didn't happen, even that 17-yard screen pass to Ty Montgomery on that last drive. Take away that play and it's overtime. Still a classic, but overtime would have been pretty cool.

• Was impressed with the crowd, easily the loudest I've heard at AT&T Stadium. And not many Packers fans, either, which means the majority kept their tickets instead of making a buck. Was an incredibly easy group of players to like this season. Think the fans sensed that, too.

• Think we will remember this season fondly in time, but more so if this is the beginning of a nice run that eventually includes a championship. Either way, this was among the more disappointing outcomes in franchise history. There's just no way around that.

• For all the talk about time of possession, the Cowboys finished at 30:14, Packers at 29:46. Green Bay finished with 10 drives, which for me was the key to the game. It had been averaging three points per drive during the win streak, so that was more or less consistent.

Check out Jeff Sullivan's column each week in *Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. Find out more at DallasCowboys.com/star. You can also follow Jeff on Twitter, @SullyBaldHead, or email him at jsullivan@dallascowboys.net.*

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Advertising