Mike McCarthy's Cowboys prove they are just as flawed as the Packers, and the rest of the NFC
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers are not a team that anyone in the NFL should fear.
They are a flawed football team that can lose some games they are winning and win some games they are losing.
In other words, they are the Dallas Cowboys.
And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for that matter. And the Seattle Seahawks. And the New York Giants. And the San Francisco 49ers. And the Los Angeles Rams.
They are a microcosm of the NFC.
Their 31-28 overtime decision over the Cowboys on Sunday at Lambeau Field was a victory that became a loss that became a victory because they did just enough things right. A week ago, they failed to do as much against a lesser team.
The Cowboys blew a fabulous opportunity to improve to 7-2 and maintain vision on the 8-0 Philadelphia Eagles, the one team in the NFC that has a solid claim on being the least flawed. Instead, they are 6-3, which is a whole lot better than being 4-6, but with less than half the season to go, they are as vulnerable as the Packers.
“We were in total control of that game,” said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, whose return to Lambeau Field had lacked a storybook ending. “I felt when we got the ball (in overtime) we were going to go down and score. It’s very disappointing. Really disappointing for the players because I thought they were good enough today to win.”
It’s a refrain that coach Matt LaFleur has mimicked during the Packers’ five-game losing streak, adamant that his players were giving it their all and just falling short. But that’s what flawed teams do: they lose games because they might be able to plug a hole or two for a while but eventually the water comes in.
With eight weeks to go in the NFL schedule, there are seven teams in the NFC with more victories than the Packers and four of them have won six or fewer games. Only the Eagles, Vikings (8-1) and Giants (7-2) are what you would consider good bets to make the playoffs, leaving the rest of the NFC muddling around with a destination unknown.
Any one of the muddlers can take on water at any time and sink.
The Cowboys came into the game having won six of their past seven. They were 4-point favorites on the road against a team desperate to break a five-game losing streak.
They were up 28-14 with 2 minutes, 47 seconds left in the third quarter.
Cowboys' deficiencies showed against the Packers
But just like the Packers, the Cowboys cannot stop the run and they don’t pass the ball very well, the latter of which has some to do with quarterback Dak Prescott missing five games with a thumb injury. But they also don’t have much talent beyond No. 1 receiver CeeDee Lamb and struggle when it comes to stretching out defenses.
They came in ranked 24th in the league against the run and had no answer to the combination of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, who teamed up for 203 yards on 37 carries (5.5 average). It’s the second straight game they have given up more than 200 yards rushing and the fourth game they’ve given up more than 5 yards per carry.
The Packers came out and worked the edges against the Cowboys offense, running pitch plays to Jones repeatedly.
“I’m assuming they’ve seen runs from weeks before (against us),” safety Malik Hooker said. “Everything we’ve seen so far, it’s nothing new. It’s what we’ve been seeing from games that we played already. It’s about putting it out. We’ve got to stop it.”
Hooker could have been speaking for the Packers defense as well. The Cowboys ran 31 times for 159 yards against the Packers’ 26th-ranked run defense. The Packers could have, and probably should have, lost the game in overtime, but a holding call erased a 16-yard run to the Green Bay 26 and turned it into second-and-19 at the Dallas 49.
The Cowboys never recovered, and the Packers drove 55 yards on six plays for Mason Crosby’s game-winning 28-yard field goal.
Christian Watson let the Cowboys know exactly who he is after he scored 3 TDs
The part that was most puzzling for the Cowboys was that they allowed rookie receiver Christian Watson to catch four passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns. Watson came into the game with 10 catches for 88 yards, his longest a 25-yarder from Jordan Love during garbage time in the season opener.
Suddenly, Watson is catching touchdowns of 58, 39 and 7 yards, the final one tying the game at 28-28 with 2:29 left.
The Cowboys hardly knew who Watson was, he had played so little.
“I didn’t really think too much of any of their receivers, honestly,” cornerback Trevon Diggs said. “I’ve never seen an issue with any of them.”
The Cowboys had no reason to worry about the Packers’ receivers. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been complaining about their mental errors all season, he has shown a willingness to throw to only a couple of them on a regular basis and there was no reason to think any of them were going to hurt the No. 4 pass defense in the NFL.
But being flawed in run defense, the Cowboys played man-to-man against Watson so they could pay more attention to Jones and Dillon. And when they finally started to take him seriously, Allen Lazard scorched them for a 36-yard catch-and-run that set up the game-winning field goal.
Asked what he knew about Watson coming into the game, the Cowboys star linebacker Micah Parsons said he knew him mostly from video games.
“It’s funny,” Parsons said. “I actually use him in Madden. In last year’s Madden I drafted him. He’s one of my favorite players. So, actually, I did know about Christian Watson. Obviously, I knew him from film and stuff. He had a great game today. He stepped up in a big way.”
Mike McCarthy said the Cowboys 'needed to' go for it on fourth down in overtime
The Packers easily could have lost this game.
It was LaFleur a week ago against Detroit who decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1 and called a play in which Rodgers was to throw the ball to tackle David Bakhtiari. It was underthrown and was intercepted in the end zone by end Aidan Hutchinson.
Kicking the field goal would have meant the Packers could have sent the game into overtime with a field goal on the final drive. Instead, they ran out of downs on the 17-yard line in a 15-9 loss.
McCarthy faced a fourth-down decision in overtime. He needed 3 yards to keep alive an opening drive that had made it to the Packers’ 35. Score a touchdown on the drive and he wins the game. Kick a field goal and the pressure is on the Packers to at least match the score with about half the period gone.
“We were right on it,” McCarthy said of the longest distance he felt his kicker could make a field goal. “We won the toss. They took the wind, so we were right on the line for the field goal. To be honest with you, I felt we needed to go for it. I called it on second down, especially with the way the game was going. I mean it was big play, penalty. Big play, penalty. Big play, penalty.
“So, our feeling was just keep playing. We had good calls. I’m fine with the decision. Obviously, I know we didn’t convert, but fourth-and-3. We just didn’t convert.”
LaFleur knows how he feels. It’s what it’s like when you’re a flawed team.
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