November 29, 2011

2007: Cowboys Beat Packers in Battle of 10-1 Teams to Secure Playoff Berth

The matchup on November 29, 2007 at Texas Stadium featured two 10-1 teams, the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, battling for the upper hand in the NFC. Both clubs featured outstanding offenses. The Cowboys, under first-year Head Coach Wade Phillips, had a solid core with QB Tony Romo (pictured at right), brash WR Terrell Owens, TE Jason Witten, and RB Marion Barber. Green Bay, coached by Mike McCarthy, had QB Brett Favre, in his sixteenth year behind center, throwing to wide receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings and handing off to RB Ryan Grant, who had become the team’s top runner down the stretch. There were injury concerns where the Packers were concerned, but they were a fundamentally sound team heading into the showdown in Irving, Texas.

There were 64,167 in attendance for the Thursday night contest and the Cowboys were wearing throwback uniforms harkening back to the ‘60s. The Packers received the opening kickoff and drove 40 yards in eight plays, capped by Mason Crosby’s 47-yard field goal for the early 3-0 lead. Following a 35-yard kickoff return by WR Miles Austin, Dallas responded in kind with a seven-play, 47-yard drive that ended with a game-tying 26-yard field goal by Nick Folk.

After a three-and-out Green Bay possession, the Cowboys followed up with another Folk field goal, this time from 51 yards, capping a drive highlighted by Marion Barber’s 16-yard run up the middle. The Packers gave the ball back on the first play following the ensuing kickoff as Favre’s poorly-thrown pass was intercepted by safety Ken Hamlin and Dallas capitalized when Romo immediately threw to Owens for a 34-yard gain to the Green Bay seven yard line and, two snaps later, connected with WR Patrick Crayton for a three-yard touchdown.

There was still just over a minute remaining in the first quarter as the Packers got the ball again. On a third-and-one play at the Green Bay 38, Grant took a handoff and broke away for a 62-yard TD. Dallas had a 13-10 lead after a period of play.

The Cowboys were quick to respond. On the first play of the second quarter, Romo completed a pass to Owens for a 48-yard gain to the Green Bay 28. Two plays later, he hit TE Anthony Fasano for a 26-yard touchdown and, with the successful extra point, Dallas was ahead by 20-10.

The Packers drove from their 16 to the 43 yard line on their next possession, but on a second-and-12 play Favre was again intercepted, this time by CB Terence Newman, giving the Cowboys the ball in good field position at the Green Bay 45. More significantly, the 38-year-old quarterback suffered a shoulder separation when hit by CB Nate Jones and was done for the day.

Dallas didn’t take long to score as a long Romo pass intended for Austin drew a pass interference penalty that moved the ball to the five yard line and, while a false start moved the ball back five yards, Owens caught a ten-yard pass for a touchdown. It was now a 27-10 game and the Cowboys seemed to be very much in command.

When the Packers went back on offense, it was third-year backup QB Aaron Rodgers behind center (pictured at left). While Favre had not been having a good day prior to his injury, completing just 5 of 14 passes for 56 yards with two of them intercepted, Rodgers was still a largely untested talent.

Rodgers’ first series was uneventful and the teams traded punts before Green Bay got the ball back again with 5:23 remaining in the first half. Following a loss on a busted play, Rodgers threw to Greg Jennings for a 43-yard gain into Dallas territory at the 32. Tossing short passes, Rodgers chipped away at the Cowboys defense and, in the final seconds of the half, hit Jennings again for an 11-yard touchdown. It was a ten-point game at 27-17 at halftime.

Austin returned the second half kickoff 38 yards to the Dallas 44 and the Cowboys quickly drove into Green Bay territory. But on a fourth-and-two play at the 30 yard line, RB Julius Jones was held to a yard and the Packers took over on downs. Rodgers was sacked for an eight-yard loss on the first play, but had back-to-back completions of seven yards to WR James Jones and 17 yards to Donald Driver. Rodgers completed four more passes during the drive, including one to TE Donald Lee that gained 22 yards, and showed off his mobility with a nine-yard run for a first down in a second-and-eight situation. Grant finished off the 12-play series with a one-yard touchdown carry and, with the PAT, the big Dallas lead was down to three points at 27-24.

The Cowboys came back with a long possession of their own, highlighted by a 35-yard completion by Romo to Crayton on a third-and-19 play from the Dallas 11. However, after getting to the Green Bay six yard line, Romo was intercepted in the end zone by CB Al Harris on a pass that was juggled by Owens.

The Packers were forced to punt, and the Cowboys moved the ball with Romo completing four passes to Jason Witten along the way. The seven-play, 75-yard drive ended with Romo tossing a four-yard touchdown pass to Crayton. The Cowboys were once again ahead by ten points with just under eight minutes left to play.

Rodgers completed two passes to Driver that covered 17 yards and, in between, ran for a 13-yard gain out of the shotgun formation. The Green Bay drive stalled at the Dallas 35 and Crosby booted a 52-yard field goal to make it a seven-point game. However, the Cowboys sealed the win by responding with a nine-play possession that ran four minutes off the clock and ended up with Folk kicking a 25-yard field goal. Along the way, Barber carried the ball seven times for 26 yards.

Getting the ball back with 1:03 on the clock, there just wasn’t enough time for Rodgers and the Packers. They ran out of both time and downs at their own 44. Dallas came away with a 37-27 win.

The Cowboys outgained Green Bay with 414 yards to 357 and also had the edge in first downs, 23 to 20. In addition, they recorded three sacks while surrendering none and had the one turnover, to two suffered by the Packers.

Tony Romo completed 19 of 30 passes for 309 yards with four touchdowns and the one interception. Terrell Owens (pictured below) caught 7 passes for 156 yards and a TD while Jason Whitten added 6 receptions for 67 yards. Marion Barber paced the running attack, carrying the ball 17 times for 81 yards.

In relief of Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers showed off his potential as he was successful on 18 of 26 throws for 201 yards and a touchdown with none intercepted. Donald Driver caught 7 passes for 66 yards and Greg Jennings accumulated 87 yards on his 5 receptions that included a TD. Ryan Grant, aided by the long touchdown run, gained 94 yards on 14 rushing attempts that included two scores.

The win assured the Cowboys of a playoff spot and put them in prime position for the top seed in the NFC. They lost two meaningless games to end up atop the NFC East with a 13-3 record. Green Bay went on to win the NFC North, also with a 13-3 tally. However, the postseason proved to be anticlimactic for both clubs as they were upset by the fifth-seeded New York Giants. The Cowboys lost to New York in the Divisional round and the Packers, after whipping Seattle in that round, lost the NFC Championship game to the Giants in overtime.

Tony Romo placed second in the league in TD passes (36), yards per attempt (8.1), and yards per completion (12.6). His 4211 passing yards ranked third and his 97.4 passer rating fifth, although he also tied for fourth (with Cleveland’s Derek Anderson) by tossing 19 interceptions. He was chosen for the Pro Bowl.

Terrell Owens was a consensus first-team All-Pro as well as Pro Bowl selection as he caught 81 passes for 1355 yards (16.7 avg.) and 15 touchdowns. Jason Whitten also was selected to the Pro Bowl, for the fourth straight year, as well as gaining consensus first-team All-Pro honors for the first time (it was the fifth such occasion for Owens) after pulling in 96 receptions for 1145 yards (both career highs) and seven TDs.

The injury to Brett Favre appeared to put his record string of 249 consecutive starts at quarterback in jeopardy, but he was back the next week and finished out the season (his last with the Packers). He finished right behind Romo in fourth place with 4155 passing yards while tossing 28 touchdown passes against 15 interceptions.

Aaron Rodgers played in just one other game in 2007, and after three seasons had a career total of 59 pass attempts and the one TD pass. Things would change dramatically in ’08 as he stepped out from behind Favre’s shadow. The fine relief performance against the Cowboys served as something of a preview of coming attractions.