Pete Dougherty, Tom Silverstein and Aaron Nagler break down the Packers' win in Dallas. (Oct. 8, 2017)
ARLINGTON, Texas - An 11-yard touchdown run by quarterback Dak Prescott capped a drive befitting of this mammoth state, a drive he hoped would win the game.
The Dallas Cowboys trailed 28-24 when they assumed possession early in the fourth quarter Sunday. Seventeen plays, 79 yards and 8:43 later, Prescott gave his team a lead on a zone read that transferred the burden back to the Green Bay Packers and their signal caller, Aaron Rodgers.
“They’re playing situational football,” defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said. “You already knew what they was doing. They’re good at what they do and they’re good at controlling the clock. At any given time I was like I just hope on defense that we stop them. When I seen the time of a minute and 13 (seconds) and you’re giving it back to Aaron Rodgers, I was like OK, I like my chances to win.”
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BOX SCORE: Packers 35, Cowboys 31
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The drive was everything the Cowboys hope to be on offense. Up front, their offensive line mauled ahead to soften the Packers’ defensive front. There were eight carries by star tailback Ezekiel Elliott, who plowed forward for 40 of the 79 total yards and dove over the pile for a crucial fourth-down conversion.
When called upon, Prescott did his job as well. He connected with wide receiver Dez Bryant for 9 yards, found slot man Cole Beasley twice for 9 total yards and relied on his veteran tight end Jason Witten for short, demoralizing chunks. He even mixed in a pass to fullback Keith Smith for a crucial third-down conversion.
“I don’t care if you’re Lance Armstrong, Usain Bolt, you can train as hard as you want,” Jean Francois said. “But if you go on that field just with the atmosphere, the stadium and everything going on, for us, I give like seven or eight plays at most. After that you’ve got to switch, you’ve got to rotate, you’ve got to keep these guys fresh. But at the end of the game like this, you’ve just got to man up.”
But the Packers were spent as the Cowboys rumbled into the red zone, inching closer to the goal line. And finally, on third and 2 from the 11-yard line, Prescott pulled the ball from the belly of Elliott and sprinted into the end zone for the go-ahead score: Cowboys 31, Packers 28.
The only problem was the time left on the clock. Dallas had given the ball back to Rodgers with 73 seconds remaining.
Less than a minute later, the Packers had taken the lead for good.
“But if we would have stopped them on that drive,” Jean Francois said, “just imagine we wouldn’t have had to go through seeing the greatness of Aaron Rodgers — even though I don’t mind. But we should have stopped them on multiple drives so we didn’t have to get in that situation.
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“We don’t need to get used to that because what happens if those games that we get into, he doesn’t get the ball back? Then it’s on us. We’ve got to make that stop. If we don’t make that stop, we lose. We’ve got to start doing that earlier in the season so we’re not doing it on the back end when we’ve got to play these teams again (in the playoffs).”
Taylor’s trial: No matter how well he has held up in his first snaps ever at left tackle, there were bound to be some hiccups with left guard Lane Taylor stepping one position outside on the Packers’ offensive line.
Taylor showed the difficulty he has faced the past two weeks on the first play of the Packers’ second drive. The Packers were trying to set up a screen pass to Aaron Jones on the left side, but Cowboys defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford ran around Taylor to sack Rodgers. The drive ended as a three-and-out deep in Packers territory.
On a screen pass, offensive linemen are expected to sustain their blocks for only a beat. But there’s a difference in how long a guard and tackle are asked to block before releasing.
“I could have held him up a little longer,” Taylor said. “I think I let him edge me a little too much. I don’t think I’d ever really ran one live. So it’s just kind of that learning process of playing tackle.”
Regardless, Taylor held up as well as the Packers could have hoped, considering he never played guard before last week and was now dealing with noise from more than 93,000 fans on the road. Taylor only allowed one sack of the three sacks against Rodgers, a number the Packers probably would have accepted before the game.
Taylor said he learned some “top secret” pointers from starting left tackle David Bakhtiari on how to protect Rodgers’ blindside on the road. Most difficult, he said, was reacting to the snap count.
MONDAY CHAT: Ryan Wood at 1 p.m.
NAGLER: Post-game chat video
GAME BLOG: Tom Silverstein's live coverage
“You almost have to read their lips to see what they’re saying,” Taylor said. “You just have to be dialed in, and be ready to get off on every snap.”
Bakhtiari missed his fourth straight game because of a hamstring injury. It’s the longest stretch of games he’s missed in his career.
When he missed three straight games in 2015, the Packers offensive line crumbled. Taylor has played maybe the biggest role in preventing that from happening to start this season.
Injury report: The Packers' secondary took a significant hit when rookie cornerback Kevin King left the game with a concussion. King exited in the first quarter and did not return.
If the concussion lingers, King's absence would be a difficult one of the secondary to overcome. The second-round pick needed just a month of the regular season to vault himself to the top of the depth chart.
"We’ve got guys in the room that’s played plenty of snaps," cornerback Quinten Rollins said. "It will be fine."
Safety Kentrell Brice (ankle) left the game in the first quarter but eventually returned to the field. Brice played a critical role in the fourth quarter after starter Morgan Burnett exited with a hamstring injury.
Brice had a crucial third-down pass breakup against tight end Jason Witten that forced the Cowboys to settle for a field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Outside linebacker Nick Perry (unknown) and cornerback Davon House (cramps) also dropped out briefly before returning to finish the game.
Receiver Jordy Nelson reportedly left late in the game with a hamstring injury.