Simply put, the Dallas Cowboys left too much time for Aaron Rodgers.
Now time might be running out on a season that is quickly going from disappointing to controversial after owner Jerry Jones hijacked the events after a 35-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers with a threat to bench any player who doesn’t respect the national anthem.
No Cowboys player has knelt during the anthem, though defensive ends Damontre Moore and David Irving raised their fists at the end of the anthem before Sunday’s game.
Neither player acknowledged that their display was a demonstration against racial injustice and police brutality, which was the basis of former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest that has been copied in many forms by players around the NFL.
Jones didn’t know about their actions, but he was unequivocal in his response.
“We know that there is a serious debate in this country about those issues, but there is no question in my mind that the National Football League and the Dallas Cowboys are going to stand up for the flag,” Jones said during a five-minute postgame rant. “So we’re clear: If there’s anything that is disrespectful to the flag, then we will not play. OK? Understand? If we are disrespecting the flag, then we won’t play. Period.”
Jones made it clear that Kaepernick would never play for the Cowboys, tacitly acknowledging that the unemployed quarterback is being blackballed by NFL teams and owners due to his silent protest.
Jones’ words, which immediately went viral, overshadowed a duel between Rodgers and Dak Prescott that featured an all too familiar ending.
In January, Rodgers converted a magical third-and-20 play to lead the Packers to a game-winning field goal in the waning seconds of a 34-31 victory in the NFC Divisional Playoffs at AT&T Stadium.
As soon as Prescott scored on an 11-yard run to put the Cowboys ahead with 1:13 to go, sending the crowd of 93,329 at AT&T Stadium into a frenzy, one daunting thought came to mind.
The Cowboys left too much time for a Packers quarterback who generally makes miracles look easy.
And so it was again Sunday as Rodgers drove the Packers 75 yards on nine plays in 1:02 to win the game 35-31 with a beautiful 12-yard strike to Davante Adams over helpless rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis.
It was quintessential Rodgers, who completed 19 of 29 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns. He also converted a third-and 8 play with a back-breaking 18-yard scramble that turned the focus of trying for a game-tying field goal into winning it outright.
“He’s good, man,” Irving said. “I saw him out the corner of my eye making a spin, tried to get him, but I was inches behind him, missed the tackle. [Stuff] happens, especially playing against him.”
Lewis was up for the task on the first attempt, but Rodgers called the same play again and Adams plucked it out of the air.
“It was a great throw and catch,” Lewis said. “He placed the ball exactly where it had to be. I tried to make a play on the ball, turned my head around late. It was a great play.”
It was equally devastating for a Cowboys team that seemingly did everything right on offense — controlling the ball and the clock behind a stellar performance from Prescott.
Prescott completed 25 of 36 passes for 251 yards with three touchdowns, an interception and his dramatic touchdown run.
“I thought Dak was really, really good in this ballgame, throwing the ball to the right guy and a lot of big-time throws throughout the game,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
And even late the Cowboys applied the right formula, going 79 yards on 17 plays and taking 8:43 off the clock as they tried to keep Rodgers off the field
The Cowboys, understanding the need to be efficient on offense and needing a win to stay above .500, got there with aggressive play-calling throughout, including three fourth-down tries.
After converting on the first two attempts, the Cowboys appeared to be short on the final one after running back Ezekiel Elliott ran into a wall. The officials ruled him down short of the line to gain.
But what they didn’t see was there was no quit in Elliott, who rushed 29 times for 116 yards. Not this time.
He stretched the ball forward, which was proven correct on a successful replay challenge by Garrett.
Three plays later, Prescott scored on a perfect zone read.
But they left too much time for Rodgers and his miracles.
“You’re playing with fire when you do that. It’s a slippery slope,” Prescott said. “It’s a frustrating loss that we’ll get better from. We’ll self-evaluate in the bye week. There’s a lot of football left to be played.”
Time is ticking.
The Cowboys head into next week’s bye at 2-3, two games behind the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles. Dallas has already matched last season’s loss total.
And they could return without Elliott.
The Cowboys will most likely find out this week if Elliott will be forced to start a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule this week. That the Cowboys managed only two wins with Elliott in the lineup is a setback. Facing six games without Elliott would be a tough task.
Just like defending Rodgers. And keeping Jones from creating controversy.