The big news Sunday came before the kickoff: Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy would resume calling plays against the Dallas Cowboys.
The immediate result: a revitalized Packers ground game led by Eddie Lacy that paved the way for a 28-7 win over Cowboys before a crowd of 78,369 at Lambeau Field.
Here are some quick thoughts:
Making the call: McCarthy finally relented and resumed calling plays after the Green Bay offense struggled again in the Hail Mary win at Detroit. And the early results featured a heavy dose of Lacy, who carried seven times for 41 yards in the first quarter. Curiously, the Packers didn’t go to Lacy despite having three shots at a touchdown from one yard out on their second series, and failed to score. Their first TD was a nice call, with Aaron Rodgers faking a handoff to Randall Cobb in motion to the left and then hitting a wide-open James Starks on a 13-yard swing pass to the right. Fullback John Kuhn saw plenty of action as well as the Packers controlled the ball and ate up the clock (37:48 time of possession).
Eddie Lacy resurgent: The Packers’ ground game became further muddled last week when Lacy, fresh off back-to-back 100-yard games, was benched for missing curfew. Lacy was back in the starting lineup Sunday and ran angry from the outset, carrying four times for 18 yards on the first drive and then contributing an 18-yard run and a 24-yard scamper with a screen pass on the second series. Lacy carried 24 times on the day for 124 yards and a touchdown. Starks provided the 1-2 punch, rushing 11 times for 71 yards, including a 30-yard TD in the fourth quarter. Starks also scored on a 13-yard swing pass in the second quarter.
Aaron Rodgers stays hot: After rescuing Green Bay with a Hail Mary heave on the game’s final play to defeat Detroit, Rodgers and the Packers had to be hoping that such dramatics would be unnecessary against Dallas. With McCarthy again calling the plays, Rodgers orchestrated a masterful 11-play, 81-yard TD drive late in the second quarter that featured a 16-yard pass to James Jones, 14-yard passes to Cobb and Kuhn and a 16-yard Rodgers run that converted a third down. On the day, Rodgers was 22-for-35 for 218 yards and a passer rating of 99.5.
Cowboys chaos: The absence of Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo figured to make the challenge of containing Dez Bryant much easier for Green Bay’s pass defense. Back at the scene of his controversial non-catch in a playoff game last January, Bryant had a 28-yard catch overturned in the second quarter when a replay review again determined that the ball hit the ground on his way down. Bryant was held to one catch for nine yards while being blanketed by Sam Shields and Damarious Randall.
Trying to slow the Pokes: The Packers’ run defense has ranked among the NFL’s best since getting off to a rough start in the season opener, but against the Cowboys it got burned on the first series by a DarrenMcFadden 50-yard run as safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix missed a tackle (Sam Shields’ end-zone interception prevented any damage). McFadden struck again early in the third quarter, breaking loose for a 45-yard dash to set up a seven-yard Robert Turbin TD run.
What it all means: The Packers control their playoff destiny after their win Sunday, but that would have been the case even with a loss. They lead the NFC North by a game over the Vikings, and even if they were to lose their next two games at Oakland and Arizona, they could claim the division crown by beating Minnesota in the Jan. 3 season finale at Lambeau Field. On the other hand, should the Vikings win that head-to-head matchup and finish with the same record as the Packers, they would claim the title based on a better record within the division. So, both the Packers and the Vikings can capture the division by winning out. As for a wild-card berth, Green Bay also is in good shape there with an 9-4 record (7-3 in the NFC).