Most thought the Dallas Cowboys’ defense discovered what the bottom of the pile felt like when Bears quarterback Josh McCown, a career backup, threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns last Monday.
But that proved only to be a sneak peak.
The Cowboys’ defense somehow managed to find a new level of ineptness against the Green Bay Packers, blowing a 23-point halftime lead Sunday. They rolled out the red carpet for another career backup, Matt Flynn, and allowed him to do his best Aaron Rodgers’ impersonation in the second half.
Flynn rallied the Packers to a 37-36 victory with four second-half TD passes after being held in check the first half. He finished with his second-most yards passing in a game (299), including completing 9 of 12 passes for 99 yards in the fourth quarter.
The Packers finished with 433 yards of total offense, the eighth time this year a team has racked up at least 400 yards on the Cowboys’ defense. Sunday’s game also made the Cowboys’ defense the worst in franchise history. They have already allowed a franchise-most 5,982 yards of offense with two games to play. They also already hold the record for most yards passing allowed (4,163).
Welcome to the bottom of the pile.
“If you don’t know what the bottom of the pile feels like, you don’t know how to crawl up out of there,” veteran defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “At the end of the day, I’ve been at the bottom of the pile and there’s no reason to give up. We don’t give up here.”
There is not much promise for the Cowboys right now. They contained Flynn and Packers running back Eddie Lacy in the first half before both broke out and gained confidence as the game wore on. Flynn completed 16 of 22 passes for 182 yards in the second half, while Lacy rushed for 110 yards on 13 carries.
“No words right now,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow when you blow a lead the way we blew it, especially at home. We gave those guys life and just let them use momentum to get back in the game.”
Plenty of blame could be passed around, but Ware and Jason Hatcher were two pointed out by owner Jerry Jones. Ware recorded only an assisted tackle and quarterback hurry, while Hatcher didn’t show up on the final stat sheet.
For Ware, this might be the most trying time in his career. He dealt with injuries last season and again this season, and now team executives are beginning to wonder why Ware isn’t playing at his past All-Pro level.
“I watched him a lot tonight, and I watched how he was being blocked tonight and I don’t have an explanation,” Jones said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to get DeMarcus in there more. I would have thought he would be more of a factor in the game tonight.”
Said Ware: “I made some effective plays. But at the end of the day, we need to get out, get off on third down, and we didn’t do that.”
The struggles holding the Packers on third down were something defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin pointed to afterward. The Packers went 6-for-7 on third-down conversions in the second half compared to 1-for-6 in the first half.
Kiffin also explained the second-half meltdown by pointing out the linebacker group Dallas had to rely on after in-game injuries to Ernie Sims (hip) and Justin Durant (hamstring), as well as starters Sean Lee and Bruce Carter being inactive.
The 11 players on defense at the end of the game says it all. Only three starters going into the season were on it: Ware, Carr and Barry Church.
Still, Kiffin said, that doesn’t justify blowing a 23-point lead.
“It’s not good at all,” Kiffin said. “There are no excuses. We should have won the game. No doubt about it. We should have won the game.”