“Can I say the F-word? ... This sucks,” Dallas Cowboys defensive end David Irving said Sunday after Aaron Rodgers orchestrated another game-winning drive at AT&T Stadium. “It sucks losing.”
Even an improved pass rush compared to what the Cowboys had in January’s 34-31 loss in the divisional round of the playoffs wasn’t enough to solve the Rodgers riddle.
Then, the Cowboys got three sacks, all by members of the secondary. Sunday, the defensive line got to Rodgers four times, including two sacks by Irving in his first game back after serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing substances policy.
But it still wasn’t enough, because Rodgers got the ball last.
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In January, Rodgers had 40 seconds to set up the game-winning field goal. If that 40 seconds was too long, the 1:13 the Cowboys left on the clock after Dak Prescott’s 11-yard touchdown run put Dallas ahead 31-28 was an eternity.
And Rodgers knew just how to use it. Two of his three completions on the game-winning drive, including the game-winning touchdown pass, went to Davante Adams, matched against Cowboys rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis.
“I felt it coming, but got my head around a little too late,” Lewis said of the game’s decisive play, a 12-yard back-shoulder fade for Adams’ second touchdown of the game. “[Rodgers] threw it exactly where it had to be. Great placement on the ball. [Adams] made a great play on the ball.”
Lewis was also called for holding late in the third quarter, when he grabbed a fist full of Jordy Nelson’s jersey on a third-and-10 play near the end zone to extend what was already a 13-play drive. Three plays later, Green Bay took its first lead of the game, 22-21 after Rodgers’ 10-yard touchdown throw to Nelson.
“I’m not thinking about it. It’s over now,” Lewis said of the back-to-back second-half letdowns in losses to the Rams and Packers. “It’s a heartbreaker, but we can’t think about it. The last two weeks are over. We’ve got a bye week to prepare. We’ve got to look forward.”
Defensive end Tyrone Crawford, who also had a sack Sunday, said the pressure they ultimately got wasn’t enough and it wasn’t the right kind of pressure to stop what became the 12th fourth-quarter comeback of Rodgers’ career.
“I don’t,” Crawford said, when asked if he felt like the Cowboys had consistent pressure on Rodgers. “Our plan was to keep him in the pocket, and we let him get out. We tried to crush the pocket, and, yeah, that kind of takes away from rushers rushing, but that’s what we’ve got to do. The guy’s a magician getting out of there and making plays.”
The Cowboys made plays, too, especially in the first half when the Dallas defense held Rodgers & Co. to a very manageable 12 points. They did that with the help of an offense that stayed on the field for 18:50 of the first two quarters.
It was very much the same formula that led the Cowboys to a 30-16 win at Green Bay in the 2016 regular season, a game that solidified the Cowboys as one of the favorites in the NFC a season ago. But in the third, the Dallas defense was on the field for 11:28.
The unit wasn’t as much exposed as it was worn down.
As the Cowboys sit at 2-3 heading into their bye, the days as a favorite are starting to feel a world away.
“You’ve just got to understand that this league is hard, man,” Cowboys safety Jeff Heath said. “At 2-3, we don’t like where we’re at right now. We didn’t expect to be 2-3. But we’ve got a long season. We’ve got 11 games left.”