Players on the Dallas Cowboys’ defense felt like they let their offensive counterparts down.
Especially in the early — and final — stages of Sunday’s 34-31 divisional playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers at AT&T Stadium.
For the most part, the Packers marched effortlessly down the field and scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, rolling to a 21-3 lead midway through the second quarter.
But the Cowboys finally tied the score at 28-28 – and again at 31-31 with 35 seconds remaining in the game.
The final nail in the Cowboys’ defensive coffin came with 3 seconds left when tight end Jared Cook caught Aaron Rodgers’ 36-yard rocket pass just inside the sideline, giving the Packers possession at the Dallas 32-yard line.
That left the door open for one more play. Mason Crosby used it to boot a game-winning 51-yard field goal as time expired, unceremoniously ending the Cowboys’ season.
“There’s lot riding on our shoulders as a defense than the guys that are on the offense,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “We don’t want to be called the weak link.”
The Cowboys defense probably gave the Packers too much of an early cushion. The electrifying pass from Rodgers to Cook summed up the day for a defense that allowed 414 yards.
“The ball was straight to the sideline,” said cornerback Byron Jones, who was the closest defender to Cook. “[Rodgers] put it on a laser and that’s what we expect from Rodgers.
“He’s out there just creating plays for his team.”
Jones said the Cowboys were in a Cover-2 zone defense on the play.
“He was behind me,” Jones said of Cook. “I should have probably just rolled into him instead of trying to keep the zone integrity.”
Safety Barry Church, asked his emotions after a loss in such stunning fashion, said: “It feels like [expletive]. Sorry for the language, but it [doesn’t feel good], man.
“We battled so hard all season long and to end on that note, it [expletive]. But it’s part of the game.’’
The Packers had touchdown drives that covered 75, 90, 80 and 75 yards. The totality of those drives really broke the Cowboys’ back.
“We gave away too many points in the first half,” linebacker Sean Lee said. “We weren’t able to get stops to start the game and it really hurt us down the stretch.
“You can’t start a game like that in the playoffs against a tough opponent. The offense was playing really well and we weren’t able to get off the field enough.”
After the Cowboys’ early struggles, Jeff Heath intercepted a pass by Rodgers with 2:19 left in the third quarter. That led to a 6-yard TD pass from Dak Prescott to Jason Witten that sliced the Packers’ lead to 28-20 less than four minutes into the fourth quarter.
“You could feel the momentum swing and our offense did a good job getting points out of it,” said Heath, who had another interception wiped out by a penalty. “We just needed another play down the stretch and we didn’t get it.
“It was a great effort by everyone to get back in the game and make it close there at the end, when early we felt like it might get out of hand.”
Rodgers was 24-of-34 passing for 268 yards and one touchdown in the first half, but only 4-of-9 for 88 yards and a touchdown in the second half.
“We just started making plays,” Heath said. “It was no secret call or secret adjustment.
“Players started making plays, and that’s what it takes to win.”
The Cowboys came up one play short.