GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy considers turnover ratio a fundamental of football, and it’s the fundamental most in need of repair for his Packers right now.
Green Bay uncharacteristically turned it over four times and made other miscues it couldn’t overcome in losing to the Cowboys, 30-16, on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
The loss dropped the Packers to 3-2 on the season, two games behind the first-place and idle Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North. But the team’s turnover ratio being minus-3 on the year was on McCarthy’s mind more than anything else as he addressed the defeat right afterward.
“Definitely a disappointing performance for us,” McCarthy said. “You have a standard you have to play to, and we didn’t hit that today.
“Giving it away four times and being in the negative category for the season, that doesn’t lead to successful football. That’s not the standard we believe in.”
The Packers were fighting an uphill battle in many respects on Sunday due to injuries. An offense with a limping Eddie Lacy (ankle) lost right tackle Bryan Bulaga (back) in the second half.
A defense already down two of its top three cornerbacks in Sam Shields (concussion) and Quinten Rollins (groin) lost Damarious Randall when he re-injured his groin in the first half, moving the fourth corner to the top of the depth chart.
Still, opportunities were there at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters to get back in the game.
Down 20-6, Aaron Rodgers drove the offense all the way to first-and-goal on the Dallas 1, but he coughed up the ball on a failed QB draw.
Moments later, safety Morgan Burnett nabbed the first interception of Cowboys rookie QB Dak Prescott’s career, putting the Packers right back in the red zone. But a three-and-out led only to a field goal and the Packers never had another viable chance to get within seven points.
“The fumble down there kills us,” said Rodgers, who also threw an interception on the opening drive of the second half when he didn’t see Dallas safety Barry Church.
Rodgers finished 31-of-42 for 294 yards with a TD and the pick for a 90.8 rating. “I have to play better, for sure,” he said.
From there, the game kind of unraveled. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott added to his league-leading rushing total with 157 yards on 28 carries.
Tops in the league in run defense coming in and having not allowed a rush of 20 yards or more all season, the Packers eventually wore down. Elliott hit them for runs of 25 and 29 on his way to 97 yards in the second half.
Prescott was 18-of-27 for 247 yards with three TDs and the lone interception for a 117.4 rating. He made the Packers pay with two huge throws at the end of the first half to cap a 97-yard scoring drive that took just 33 seconds.
With all three of its timeouts, Green Bay trailed 10-6 and punted Dallas back to its own 3-yard line with a minute left on the clock. Two runs from Elliott followed by two timeouts set up third-and-1 from the Dallas 12 with 45 seconds to go.
The Cowboys surprised the Packers with an end-around to receiver Lucky Whitehead, who raced 26 yards. Prescott then went on the attack, hitting Terrance Williams for a 42-yard gain when cornerback LaDarius Gunter fell down.
Prescott immediately followed with a 20-yard TD pass to Brice Butler over Gunter to send the Packers into halftime down 17-6, completing a rapid turn of events.
“Frankly, I trust my defense there,” McCarthy said of stopping the clock when the Cowboys would have been content to run it out. “I believe in my defense in a backed-up situation with three timeouts. I expect to get the ball back, and with Mason Crosby and the way he’s kicking the ball, that all factored into the decision there.”
Lacy was lauded for battling his way to 65 yards on 17 carries as he went in and out of the lineup. The Packers countered his absence with a five-receiver set at times and also used receiver Ty Montgomery in the backfield, getting a productive day from him (10 catches, 98 yards) until he fumbled the ball away late.
Any steadiness on offense was hard to come by, and the Cowboys’ two giveaways (Prescott also lost a fumble) were converted into just six points. The defense allowed Dallas to convert just three of 11 times on third down yet surrendered 424 yards, hurt by big plays time after time.
But it’s all water under the bridge now. The Chicago Bears visit on Thursday night.
“These are probably the most important moments,” McCarthy said. “This is something that’s a growing opportunity. It doesn’t feel like it right now, but that’s the reality, that’s the approach.”
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