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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Tramon Williams, middle, came up with the game-clinching interception of Tony Romo on Sunday in the Green Bay Packers' win over the Dallas Cowboys. (PHOTO: Jim Biever / Green Bay Packers)

Packers defense made the plays that mattered


Tony Romo was right on in addressing the media following the Green Bay Packers' stunning 37-36 victory over his Dallas Cowboys Sunday afternoon in Texas: it didn't matter how or why it happened, what mattered was who won and who lost, and it was the Packers who came out on top after rallying from 23 points down at the half to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

In the first half, the Packers defense – one of the worst in football, especially against the run – allowed Romo and the Cowboys to score on six possessions in the first half and seven of their first eight overall to take a halftime lead of 26-3 and a late third quarter lead of 29-10.

The Cowboys also totaled the most yards in franchise history in the first half, a whopping 332.

Conversely, the Matt Flynn-led Packers offense managed only a 57-yard Mason Crosby field goal in the first 30 minutes of action, to go with four punts and an interception.

Now, Flynn's second half performance – he led four consecutive touchdown drives and finished the day with 299 yards, four passing TDs and a 113.1 quarterback rating – will be all the talk this week. So will that of the wounded Eddie Lacy, the running back's right ankle bound in heavy black tape, rushing for 141 yards on 21 carries (6.7 yards per carry) and the game-punctuating diving score with about 90 seconds left.

How about the play of Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin and Andrew Quarless, bailing out Flynn time after time, making great catches on underthrown passes?

There will be time to drop confetti on the resurgent offense and the "halftime adjustments" of head coach Mike McCarthy.

But the group that deserves the most kudos for rallying was the Packers' defense.

This group couldn't contain a college team in the first half. Brad Jones looked lost at linebacker. Clay Matthews, supposedly one of the premier pass rushers in all of football, was swallowed up first by Cowboys' left tackle Tyron Smith and then by right tackle Doug Free. They didn't need any help, either.

The secondary once again looked confused and out-gunned, losing Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant in coverage – and then not being able to tackle them once they caught up.

For as bad as the offense was in the first half, the fact that the Packers managed to hold the Cowboys to four first-half field goals seemed almost irrelevant.

Until it wasn't.

In the second half, Dallas scored just 10 points. On the game, the Cowboys reached the end zone just three times.

For all of the fantasy stats the Cowboys wound up compiling, they couldn't score when it mattered most.

No, it was the Packers defense that made the plays that counted.

In the first half, when all seemed lost, corner Micah Hyde knocked a ball away on third down to force Dallas' first field goal. Safety Morgan Burnett broke up a pass in the end zone to force a second. Corner Jarrett Bush defended Witten closely to set up a third.

It was, indeed, 26-3 at the half – but it could have (should have?) been much, much worse.

Then, the comeback began.

Hyde and Tramon Williams made a Dallas holding penalty stand up and prevented any after the catch to set up a fourth Dan Bailey kick. 29-10.

Matthews looped around the inside of the line of scrimmage, forcing Romo into Datone Jones, and the two combined for a sack and forced a Dallas punt. 29-24.

At this point, it looked as if the Packers defense was gassed. The Cowboys answered, with Dez Bryant scoring a 5-yard touchdown. 36-24.

But no. Flynn found James Jones to cap a 10-play, 80-yard drive. 36-31 with 4 minutes, 17 seconds left.

Five plays later, Matthews nearly sacked Romo, forcing him to literally duck the pressure and deliver late to Austin – who had beaten Sam Shields. But the slight delay caused by the pass rush allowed Shields to recover, and he intercepted Romo.

Eight plays later, Lacy dove into the end zone behind the blocking of B.J. Raji to complete the comeback. 37-36.

The game then ended when Williams intercepted Romo with 1:24 remaining.

It was by no means pretty. There were so many (so many) defensive flaws that were exposed by the Cowboys, but when it came right down to it, the biggest playmakers made the plays that mattered.


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