GREEN BAY - Inside Lambeau Field, the home and visitor locker rooms are separated by two long hallways and two flights of stairs. But from one dressing area to the other, from the victorious Dallas Cowboys to the humbled Green Bay Packers, discussions about a turning point all focused on the same moment in time.
It began when the Cowboys took the field for their final drive of the first half, leading 10-6 with exactly one minute on the clock and no timeouts. They trotted out to the shadows of their own end zone, and the possession began at the 3-yard line thanks to a beautiful punt by the Packers’ Jacob Schum.
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who orchestrated another masterful game, called for runs by running back Ezekiel Elliott on first and second down. Elliott, the rookie sensation from Ohio State, picked up gains of four yards and five yards, respectively, with both rushes off right guard.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy called timeout after each run, trying to conserve the clock in anticipation of his team getting the ball back. There were 45 seconds left in the half, and the Cowboys faced a third down at their own 12-yard line. The situation was far from promising.
BOX SCORE: Cowboys 30, Packers 16
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“We’ve just got to get a stop right there,” outside linebacker Julius Peppers said. “Can’t let them score seven. At least hold them to a field goal. That was the big thing.”
And the big thing promptly flopped.
On third-and-1, Linehan dialed up a jet sweep with wide receiver and kick returner Lucky Whitehead, a gadget player with shiftiness and speed. Peppers, who lined up over the left side of the offensive line, bit hard to the inside anticipating a run by Elliott. Instead, Whitehead crossed the formation from right to left and turned the corner for a 26-yard gain.
“Coach Linehan, as he does, dialed another great play,” rookie quarterback Dak Prescott said.
The rest of the drive belonged to Prescott, a mid-round draft pick from Mississippi State, and Packers cornerback LaDarius Gunter, a former undrafted free agent making his second consecutive start.
On first-and 10, wide receiver Terrance Williams spun Gunter in circles on the right side, and Prescott lobbed an easy 42-yard pass to an uncovered target. One snap later, wideout Brice Butler gained a yard of separation on Gunter, which allowed Prescott to loft a perfect throw to the back corner of the end zone for a 20-yard score.
“Just big plays, you know?” said Gunter, part of a shorthanded secondary that entered the game still without cornerback Sam Shields (concussion) and lost Damarious Randall (groin) early in the second quarter. “You play the game to prevent big plays, and that last series they got a couple.”
Five plays, 97 yards, 33 seconds. The touchdown from Prescott to Butler gave the Cowboys a double-digit lead, 17-6. From that point forward, the margin never dropped below 11.
“I thought Dak was outstanding," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "It wasn't always the cleanest for him, but just his ability to respond to the different situations, the poise and composure was outstanding. He made some big-time throws really throughout the ballgame that really allowed us to score points and extend the lead late in the ballgame. He was outstanding."