In what essentially was an NFC elimination game, the Dallas Cowboys almost beat the Green Bay Packers by technical knockout in the first half.
Green Bay, however, staged a furious second-half comeback and stunned the Cowboys 37-36. Eddie Lacy’s go-ahead touchdown run and Tramon Williams’ interception provided the knockout punches.
Green Bay, which did almost nothing on offense behind Matt Flynn in trailing 26-3 at halftime, scored touchdowns on all five second-half possessions, other than a take-a-knee to run out the clock.
The Cowboys, nursing a 36-31 lead, appeared to have the game in hand when Tony Romo completed a 13-yard pass to Dez Bryant on third-and-12. After a first-down run gained 4, the Cowboys inexplicably threw the ball. Clay Matthews missed an easy sack, but Romo threw a weak pass across the middle to Myles Austin, with Sam Shields making an incredible interception to give Green Bay the ball at midfield with 2:58 to play.
Flynn completed an 18-yard pass to Andrew Quarless and Lacy ran for 4 yards at the 2-minute warning. Lacy ran for 7 and out of bounds at the 21 with 1:54 to play, and Barry Church was flagged for interference on a pass to Quarless, an 8-yard penalty to the 13. Lacy then rumbled up the middle for 9 to the 4, which forced Dallas to use a timeout with 1:43 to go. Flynn’s play-action pass to James Jones was too high, but Lacy converted the third-and-1 with a 3-yard run to the 1.
After Dallas called timeout with 1:34 to go, coach Mike McCarthy sent out defensive linemen B.J. Raji and Mike Daniels to block for Lacy, with Lacy jumping over the pile with ease for the go-ahead touchdown. Flynn’s back-shoulder pass to Quarless on the two-point play fell incomplete, though, giving Romo 1:31 to drive Dallas for the winning points.
After a 9-yard completion to Cole Beasley, Romo fired another pass to Beasley. Beasley pulled up on the route but Williams did not, making an incredible interception. The play was ruled incomplete and McCarthy called a timeout to give the booth time to review the play.
Moments later, the quarterback took a knee and Quarless thrust his arms into the air in triumph, just like he did when the Packers won the Super Bowl in Dallas.
Flynn threw for 299 yards and four touchdowns, including 182 yards and all of the touchdowns in the second half. Of Lacy’s 141 rushing yards, 110 came in the second half.
The Packers (7-6-1) trail Chicago (8-6) by a half-game in the NFC North. Detroit (7-6) hosts Baltimore on Monday night.
When the Cowboys led 26-3 at halftime, it looked safe for the Packers’ players and coaches to make their January tee times. Dallas piled up a franchise-record 332 yards in the first half while Green Bay gained just 132 yards against the NFL’s last-ranked defense.
On the first play of the second half, Lacy ripped off a 60-yard run, and the Packers were off and running from there. On third-and-3 from the 13, Jordy Nelson ripped a possible interception out of cornerback Orlando Scandrick’s hands for a touchdown. Dallas’ offense did what it had done for most of the game: piled up a bunch of yards but bogged down in scoring position. Dan Bailey’s 50-yard field goal, his fifth of the day, extended the margin to 29-10.
Green Bay scored again, with Flynn’s 22-yard completion to Quarless on third-and-8 and 21-yard completion to Nelson on third-and-10 being key plays in Quarless’ 3-yard touchdown. The Packers forced a three-and-out punt, with Micah Hyde’s punt return setting up the offense on Dallas’ 22. On the fourth play of the fourth quarter, Starks took a middle screen 11 yards for a touchdown that cut the score to 29-24.
The Packers’ resolve would be tested in a big way on the ensuing possession. First, Williams couldn’t corral an interception. Then, Mike Neal was flagged for offside on third-and-5 to move the chains. Finally, Dez Bryant made a brilliant touchdown catch on third-and-4 from the 6 to provide a much-needed cushion with 7:55 to go.
Green Bay wasn’t dead, though.
The Cowboys had no answers for Quarless and Lacy, and Jarrett Boykin made a superb play for a 27-yard catch-and-one on a back-shoulder pass from Flynn to make it first-and-goal from the 7. On second down from the 3, Flynn looked right but fired left to Jones for the touchdown, which made it 36-31 with 4:17 to go.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.