GREEN BAY — Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys’ second-ranked offense came as advertised on Sunday afternoon.
While the Packers defense forced Prescott into his first NFL interception, the rookie quarterback overcame two turnovers to keep Dallas’ offense on track in a 30-16 win over Green Bay at Lambeau Field.
Prescott, who improved to 5-1 in place of injured starter Tony Romo, threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns to keep the Cowboys rolling like they have been all season.
While the secondary tried to solve Prescott, the Packers’ top-ranked run defense was tested by another Cowboys rookie in Elliott, who surpassed 130 rushing yards for the fourth consecutive week with a 28-carry, 157-yard performance.
Elliott’s ability to keep the Cowboys in favorable down-and-distance situations was key for a Dallas offense that was otherwise only 3-of-11 on third down.
“He’s a tough back and he falls forward,” defensive lineman Mike Daniels said. “He plays with an attitude. If you play with an attitude at any position then you’re going to have some success, especially a position where you have to attack people.”
The Packers allowed only 171 rushing yards in their previous four games combined prior to Thursday night, but they knew the challenge the NFL’s leading rusher presented.
Still, the Packers did an admirable job of bottling up the rookie in the first half, limiting him to a long gain of 14 yards in the first two quarters.
At the same time, Green Bay made life difficult on Prescott early with Julius Peppers’ strip-sack and Joe Thomas’ recovery halting Dallas’ third series and giving the ball back to the Packers’ offense.
“I think we did a fairly decent job at the beginning of the game,” said Peppers, who now has 2½ sacks this season. “This is a very good football team all the way around. I think it came down to us not doing things that we normally do well – missing tackles, being a little undisciplined jumping out of gaps trying to make plays. You give them credit.”
Things started to turn on the Packers’ fourth defensive series when cornerback Damarious Randall exited with the groin injury that sidelined him last week against the New York Giants.
Already without Sam Shields (concussion) and Quinten Rollins (groin), the Packers turned to third-year veteran Demetri Goodson, who was playing in his first regular-season game after sitting out the first four games due to suspension.
It was yet another challenge for a secondary that’s already played through a lot of adversity this season.
“It is what it is,” defensive back Micah Hyde said. “(Goodson) came in and made some plays. Good for him. He was ready with conditioning over the break. We can’t make excuses. It’s tough. It’s life of an NFL player.”
Dallas, which managed only a field goal on its next four series after scoring on the opening drive, was pinned back at its own 3-yard line with a minute left in the first half before Prescott drove the Cowboys 97 yards on five plays to take a 17-6 lead into halftime.
Outside of safety Morgan Burnett becoming the first player to intercept one of Prescott’s passes this season, the Cowboys scored on all three of their second-half possessions to seal the win.
It was disappointing for a Green Bay defense that entered Sunday ninth in the NFL in total yards, but also a reminder of where it still needs to improve.
Outside of a team sack on a fumble and Peppers’ strip, Prescott was hit only one other time in the game en route to fashioning a 117.4 passer rating.
“We have a very good team. There’s no doubt about that,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “But we need to be clicking on all three cylinders and all three phases and we haven’t done that to date.
“If you look within the past several years, we continue to get better as the year progresses, but ultimately it’s these games now that you hate to let go, especially within the conference where it could have implications looking down the road.”
Daniels said he planned to immediately watch the film of the game, make the corrections and quickly turn his focus to Thursday night’s game against the Chicago Bears.
As Burnett attests, one game doesn’t change what the Packers have accomplished this season. If recent history is any indication, he expects the defense to respond against the Bears.
“I have tons of confidence. No confidence is lost,” said Burnett, who led the defense with 10 tackles. “I think in this profession, you can’t panic at all. Things are going to happen in this league. You’re going against the best each and every day. It’s always about how you respond. It’s easy to respond well when things are going your way, but it’s how do you respond under adversity.”
Matthews said he hopes Green Bay might cross paths with the Cowboys again later this season. Until then, it’s up to the Packers’ defense to learn from Sunday’s disappointment.
After all, there’s another hungry opponent waiting for Green Bay this Thursday night, the final contest of the Packers’ four-game homestand.
“Stay positive. That’s the main thing,” Peppers said. “We need positive reinforcement, positive energy and that’s what we’re going to get. We’re a good football team. We didn’t necessarily show it today, but we’re a good football team and we’ll bounce back.”
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