Squandered Opportunities Haunt the Dallas Cowboys
Despite giving Green Bay two scoring drives off of interceptions, the Cowboys entered the fourth quarter with a two-touchdown lead and needed to either score or at least drain the clock and sit on the ball in order to win the game.
Instead, they possessed the ball for 5:17 over the course of 11 plays. The Packers, by contrast, possessed the ball for 9:27 and 17 plays – producing two touchdowns on their three possessions.
The mathematically minded may have figured out that this doesn’t exactly add up to 15 minutes. The final 16 seconds were wasted by the Cowboys, who let the clock drain for no well-understood reason despite having a pair of timeouts to work with.
Not only that, the Cowboys declined a chance to go up in overtime with a 53-yard field goal attempt, instead opting to go for it on fourth down with three yards to go. The field goal would not have won the game, but it would have insulated them from a return field goal drive and forced the Packers to play for a touchdown.
According to a tweet from ESPN Stats & Info, the Cowboys were 180-0 all-time when leading by 14 points through three quarters. When you factor in the playoffs, they were 195-0 all-time. That streak ended today.
Green Bay Packers Leveraged Opportunity
The Packers, for their part, took advantage of opportunities for seemingly the first time all season. Starting Rudy Ford in place of Darnell Savage was immediately justified, as his two picks were instrumental in the Packers’ comeback.
They also targeted Christian Watson — who has been doing an excellent job getting open all season — much more consistently throughout the game. What’s better is that he earned targets after a pair of drops set the Packers back. In the past, drops would reduce his targets, and Rodgers would look the other way. This time, he earned four catches for three touchdowns and 107 yards.
Entering the game, the Cowboys had one of the top defenses in the NFL. They ranked third in points allowed per drive and points allowed per game, as well as fourth in expected points added from defense. Adding Dak Prescott back to the lineup after injury was supposed to allow the offense to keep pace with the defense and should have thrust them into the conversation as an elite team.
Instead, Prescott threw a pair of critical picks and averaged 5.76 yards per passing attempt – a mark that represents bottom-tier quarterback play. That’s despite a 150-yard game from CeeDee Lamb, who had some astounding catches on what turned out to be an amazing day for high-level receivers across the NFL.
On top of that, the Cowboys forced three fumbles and recovered two of them. One of those fumble recoveries turned into an interception from Prescott.
Dallas Cowboys Have Little Room For Error
The NFC East is the toughest division in football, so there isn’t much room for error. The New York Giants are backing into win after win, and the Philadelphia Eagles are dominating games from beginning to end. The Cowboys can’t afford to drop games against struggling teams – especially ones that will become or already have been common opponents against their division rivals.
Now, the Cowboys are a game behind the Giants and two and a half games behind the Eagles in the NFL Standings.
The Packers, like the Buccaneers, might feel that they’ve recovered the star qualities from their Hall of Fame quarterback. That’s entirely possible, but it could be too late for Green Bay.
If Rodgers has found a way to trust his receivers and the defense can operate better with Ford at safety – even without Rashan Gary – they could make some noise and spoil some playoff runs. But we’ll need to see more than just one game from Green Bay to conclude that they can make a run.
More interesting is the fact that this is perhaps the best team Dallas has assembled in a decade. It’s easy to see what their Super Bowl path would look like.
In traditional Cowboys fashion, it feels like a waste.