GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy called it.
Not just the first play of Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field, and every play thereafter, but earlier in the week, when he said running back Eddie Lacy was “rejuvenated.”
Putting his curfew violation and the ongoing ups and downs to his 2015 season behind him, Lacy turned in the type of performance in a 28-7 victory over the Cowboys that could help make the Packers a serious threat the rest of the way in the NFC.
Lacy ran, danced and powered his way to 124 rushing yards on 24 carries, both season highs. Calling his second demotion of the season last week a “shakeup” that refocused him, Lacy was finally having fun playing football again.
“It’s how you handle it,” Lacy said of the previous week, the roughest in a trying third season. “Even though I didn’t like what I did and what happened, I think it was necessary. It showed me that without this game, without this sport, I’m not happy. I’m unhappy. Because this is what I like.”
The home fans loved it, chanting his name off and on throughout his best day of the season. Lacy went over 100 yards rushing for the third time in four games, added another 24 yards on a screen pass and scored the game’s final TD on a 1-yard plunge after carrying most of the Cowboys defense on a 24-yard run that nearly went the distance.
“That just brings energy,” left guard Josh Sitton said of Lacy’s powerful runs. “We feed off that. We love seeing it.
“When he can do that, he can really grind on a defense.”
The outing highlighted a 230-yard rushing day by the Packers, their highest output in 11 years (231 yards vs. St. Louis on Nov. 29, 2004). James Starks added 71 yards on 11 carries, and QB Aaron Rodgers had 27 yards on a pair of scrambles.
Starks also had four catches for 32 yards, including an early 13-yard receiving TD, but his biggest play finally broke open a 14-7 game in the fourth quarter. He burst up the middle for a 30-yard TD run on which he didn’t even get touched.
“I didn’t,” he said. “The line did a great job, giving us a hole, and (Randall) Cobb made a great block. I was patient and he got to his guy and locked him up and sprung me for it.”
The commitment to the run paid dividends, as the Packers gained 116 of their rushing yards – almost exactly half of them – on their final two scoring drives in the fourth quarter.
With Green Bay’s defense holding down a Tony Romo-less Dallas offense, time of possession was decidedly in the Packers’ favor (37:48 to 22:12), and eventually the Cowboys defense broke down against the run. Lacy and Starks combined for five runs of more than 10 yards each on the final two drives alone.
“Eddie was running the best I’ve seen him run all year. James is a great complement. We had that 1-2 punch we’re used to having,” right guard T.J. Lang said.
“In the fourth quarter when we needed it the most, we got the production we were looking for.”
As for the change in play-callers, the players in the locker room said they either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
Cobb admitted he didn’t know until the fourth quarter, when he walked past McCarthy on the sideline and saw the play sheet in hand. Lang emphasized that it was “the players’ responsibility” and it wasn’t former play-caller Tom Clements’ fault “we weren’t executing throughout the year.”
Regardless, the linemen were grateful the offense stuck with the run until they started to break some big ones. Having four of five starters back in the lineup certainly helped, and JC Tretter filled in more than capably for Corey Linsley at center once again.
“We preach finishing,” Tretter said. “For the backs to finish, for the receivers to finish, for the linemen to run downfield and push piles, that’s what we work on and that’s what we look for.”
Added Sitton: “We’re confident in what we can do as a line. We feel like we can go win football games, put it on our back and let James and Eddie go out there and tote the thing.”
Doing so successfully against the fifth-ranked defense in the league coming in is a strong first step in preparing for a possible playoff run, but it’s only the first step.
“It just shows when everybody’s on the same page … the possibilities are endless,” Lacy said. “We have to continue to go. We can’t live off of this one moment. We have to use this to spring us forward.”
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