The offense recorded the best performance by the Packers on third down in more than five years on the way to over 400 net yards and the season-high 45 points, the defense followed up last week’s shutout by giving up just 39 rushing yards and seven points while scoring a touchdown of its own, and the special teams recorded two takeaways and a score as Green Bay improved to a division-leading 6-3 mark in front of 70,913 at Lambeau Field.
“You always strive to play a complete game,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “We accomplished that tonight. Very pleased with the special teams, the two big takeaways. The defense, they just swarmed all over them, kept them out of the end zone, and the offense got into a rhythm. Really liked the way our run-pass ratio was tonight, and third down was a key for us.
“We played a complete football game tonight. This is the way you want to go into the bye week.”
Green Bay got on the board first on Sunday night, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers finding running back Brandon Jackson on a screen for a 9-yard touchdown early in the second quarter as Jackson made a nifty move to avoid a tackle by linebacker Sean Lee. The key play on the drive was a season-long 27-yard run by Rodgers down to the Dallas 17 to convert a third down. Green Bay had taken over at its own 37 to start the drive after rookie cornerback Sam Shields made a one-handed interception down the sideline as he covered wide receiver Miles Austin.
After the defense forced a three-and-out by Dallas, Rodgers quickly moved the offense down the field behind back-to-back completions to wide receiver James Jones (career-high eight receptions for 123 yards) of 22 and 31 yards respectively that put the ball at the Dallas 2. Jackson (42 yards on 13 carries) scored his second touchdown of the night, this time on the ground, on the next play to put Green Bay up 14-0. The seven-play, 80-yard drive took just 3:52.
Green Bay’s defense came up with another three-and-out on the next possession, with linebacker Clay Matthews delivering a big hit on running back Marion Barber on third-and-1 for a 3-yard loss. Taking over at its own 7-yard line, the offense wasted no time adding to the lead.
Running back John Kuhn (career-high 50 yards on 13 carries), found a big hole off right tackle for a 17-yard pickup out to midfield on third down, and three plays later Rodgers lofted a perfect pass over the shoulder of wide receiver Greg Jennings down the left sideline for a 33-yard gain. Two plays later, the tandem hooked up again, this time on an 8-yard pass over the middle for a touchdown on the third consecutive drive.
But the Packers weren’t done. On the ensuing kickoff, cornerback Jarrett Bush ripped the ball out from returner Bryan McCann, and safety Nick Collins caught the fumble in the air and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. It appeared that McCann’s knee may have been down before the ball came out, but the Cowboys couldn’t challenge the ruling because they had already called all three of their timeouts in the first half.
The 28 points posted by the Packers in the second quarter alone were the most in a quarter since they registered the same number vs. the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 20, 1992, and the 16 first downs were the most in a half by Green Bay since they put up the same number in the first half against San Francisco last season in Week 11.
“This is a good one to go back and maybe watch and get a good feeling about it because we did some good things,” Rodgers said. “We just ran our stuff. I think that’s the key tonight. We didn’t call a bunch of plays we didn’t have a lot of reps in. We made plays after the catch. We did the things we’ve been doing here as long as I’ve been here.
“So I think this will be one to really get some good feelings about and hopefully be able to keep the same kind of momentum going.”
Dallas got its lone score of the night right before halftime, as quarterback Jon Kitna connected with wide receiver Dez Bryant on a 41-yard pass down to Green Bay’s 2 before the pair hooked up on a 2-yard touchdown pass three plays later.
The Packers added to their lead in the third quarter, with Rodgers throwing his third touchdown pass of the game, this time to Jones on a slant for the 10-yard score and a 35-7 lead. Rodgers would stay in for one more series, a 16-play, 80-yard drive that was capped off with a 26-yard Mason Crosby field goal early in the fourth quarter, before exiting the game as Matt Flynn took over.
Rodgers finished the night with 289 yards and three touchdowns on 27-of-34 passing (79.4 percent), with no interceptions for the second straight game on his way to a 131.5 passer rating. Coming into the game ranked No. 26 in the league with a 35.1 conversion rate on third down, Rodgers led the offense to a 10-of-15 performance in that area, the highest percentage by Green Bay since a 71.4 mark vs. Cleveland on Sept. 18, 2005.
“I think we had a good plan,” Rodgers said. “We just got into a flow early. I think I haven’t played this kind of game really this season yet. I’m playing the way I feel like I’m capable of playing. It was nice to play better. It was obviously a combination of a number of things but Mike called some very high-percentage plays early in the game for me, and I feel like I really got into a rhythm early.
“The runs I thought were effective at times. They played a lot of man coverage, so I was able to get out a couple of times and make positive yards. John had a couple good runs, Brandon ran the ball nicely. So, I think we had good production in the run game but like I said before the third down was the key.”
With the offense and special teams already getting points on the board, Green Bay’s defense wasn’t going to be left out of the scoring column. Kitna quickly moved the Cowboys to Green Bay’s 30-yard line with just over 11 minutes remaining in the game, but his short pass intended for Austin was tipped by linebacker A.J. Hawk and into the arms of Matthews, who took his first career interception 62 yards for a score.
It was the finishing touch for a defense that allowed just 39 yards on the ground by the Cowboys, the fewest given up by a Packers defense since 33 yards at Detroit on Oct. 17, 2004. The ability to make Dallas one-dimensional helped the defense get pressure on Kitna as they sacked the veteran signal-caller four times on the way to a 63.6 passer rating (19-of-30, 183 yards, two interceptions).
“I think last year we might have had our best defensive game against them last year (17-7 win in Week 10), so I know we felt good coming in here, and it’s kind of exactly where we left off,” Matthews said. “Anytime you can open up a lead and know that they have to start passing the ball ... You shut down the run, that’s when you can really start getting after them and bringing your pressure.”
Sunday night’s win kept the Packers atop the NFC North, a half game ahead of Chicago (5-3), as they head into the bye week on a three-game winning streak for the first time since 2004.
“I like the direction,” McCarthy said. “I'm very impressed with the character, the work ethic of this group. Just the fact that every Monday you have a medical report that's two pages long and get different guys stepping up each week. We're getting better. That's what it's all about. You’ve got to play your best football in November, December. That is so important, as everybody knows. And we're definitely heading in the right direction.
“This is a win we can build off of. More importantly, it gives us a chance to reset, you know, as a coaching staff, get these players healthy, get ready for Minnesota. We have four out of five on the road coming off the bye, so we've got a very tough part of our schedule ahead of us. It starts at Minnesota.”