The Green Bay Packers showed determination as they overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Dallas Cowboys 31-28 in overtime. The victory ended a five-game losing streak for the Packers.
Rookie wide receiver Christian Watson had his biggest day as a pro, catching four passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns while Aaron Jones ran for 138 yards rushing and scored a touchdown. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers enjoyed his best game of the season by throwing for 224 yards and three scores without throwing an interception.
The win improves the Packers record on the season to 4-6 and keeps their slim playoff hopes alive. The Cowboys fell to 6-3 on the season.
Here are 10 things we learned from the Packers 31-28 overtime win over the Cowboys:
- Christian Watson Showed What He’s Capable Of
It’s been a frustrating season for rookie wide receiver Christian Watson but against Dallas, he showed why the Packers traded up to draft him.
The rookie from North Dakota State caught four passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns. He became the first Packers rookie to score three touchdowns in a game since James Lofton did it in Week 2 of the 1978 season against the Saints.
Watson dropped two passes early in the game but managed to come back and have his first big day as a pro.
By the end of the game, Watson appeared a lot more confident and Rodgers clearly had more confidence throwing the ball to him.
Getting Watson involved in the offense would be a big step forward for this team in the second half of the season.
- The Running Game Dominated
The Packers were able to move the ball on the ground consistently against the Dallas defense throughout the game. Jones went over the 100 yard mark again and averaged 5.8-yards per rush while A.J. Dillon added 65 yards on 13 carries which included some tough inside runs.
The Packers as a team gained 207 yards on the ground and managed to hold the football for 35:55.
The running game set up the Packers passing game and allowed it to be more effective as the offense seemed coordinated and well planned for most of the game. This is an encouraging sign.
- Aaron Rodgers Showed Patience
While the Packers struggled to move the football at times during the game, Rodgers showed patience. He threw the ball back to Watson even after he dropped two passes early on.
Rodgers and head coach Matt LaFleur also stayed patient and continued to run the football even when they were behind 28-14 in the fourth quarter.
Rodgers stayed with the run and allowed it to set up the long passes he prefers to throw. They did end up being effective and the Packers averaged 16 yards per completion for the game.
At times, Rodgers was frustrated but he showed more patience than he had most of the season and it paid off handsomely by the end of the game.
- Rudy Ford Came Up Big
With Eric Stokes on IR, the Packers had to make adjustments on defense and that gave Rudy Ford an opportunity to see a lot more playing time. The former Raiders safety came up with some big plays including two interceptions which doubled his previous career total.
Ford was in on four tackles and broke up two passes but the interceptions were extremely important. One came when the Cowboys were at the Packers 11 and thwarted what seemed like a sure touchdown right after the Packers had fumbled the ball away. That was a game saver.
The second one gave the Packers the ball at the Dallas 24.
Both interceptions set up drives that led the touchdowns and gave the Packers a big boost of confidence.
Ford was best known as a special teams contributor but his big plays on defense changed the complexion of this game for the Packers.
- The Run Defense Continues to Struggle
While the Packers ran the ball well on offense, the Green Bay run defense couldn’t stop the Cowboys from running the ball all game. The Pack was playing without De’Vondre Campbell and Krys Barnes so Quay Walker and Isaiah McDuffie were the starting inside linebackers.
Dallas also didn’t have Ezekiel Elliott available, but both Tony Pollard and Malik Davis were effective running the football on Green Bay.
The Cowboys gained 159 yards on the ground in this game and averaged a healthy 5.1-yards per rush.
The run defense must improve in a hurry as Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans come to town on Thursday.
- The Packers Finally Replaced Amari Rodgers at Punt Returner
Yes, it happened again. Amari Rodgers lost another fumble returning a punt early in the third quarter. The Packers should have had good field position but instead, gave Dallas the ball on the Green Bay 45. Four plays later, the Cowboys scored and took a 21-14 lead.
But LaFleur and special teams coach Rick Bisaccia finally decided to replace Amari Rodgers on punt returns with Keisean Nixon. Nixon returned two punts for 19 yards in the game and held onto the ball both times.
Whether Nixon is a long-term solution as a punt returner remains to be seen but Amari Rodgers clearly cannot be trusted to hold onto the ball when returning punts and shouldn’t be filling that role anymore.
- The Packers Receiving Corps Contributed
Injuries have depleted the Packers receiving corps with Romeo Doubs and Randall Cobb both unavailable for this game. While Rodgers threw only 20 passes in four quarters plus overtime, the team’s other receivers besides Watson came through with some important catches.
Sammy Watkins contributed for the first time since Week 2 and caught all three of his targets for 47 yards and picked up some key first downs.
Allen Lazard was quiet most of the day but came through with a vital 36-yard catch that helped set up the game-winning field goal in overtime.
Watson was the star but Watkins and Lazard made important contributions to this victory when called upon.
- The Packers Didn’t Quit
It would be easy to see a team that had lost five straight games give up when they fell behind by 14 points after three quarters. The competitive part of the season would truly be over had the Packers lost this game and it is to the team’s credit that they scrapped and fought their way back and ended up winning it in overtime.
This win showed guts and some character and hopefully it gives the Packers something to build on for the rest of the season.
- The Packers Spoiled Mike McCarthy’s Return
Mike McCarthy is the second winningest coach in Packers history and he has a street named after him in Green Bay. He spent 13 years coaching the Packers and led them to nine playoff berths, four trips to the NFC Championship Game and a Super Bowl title.
McCarthy was excited for his return to Green Bay and was at the stadium early. He got a warm reception from Packers fans and many of his former players. Aaron Rodgers gave McCarthy a bear hug when he saw him and Cobb and David Bakhtiari were also seen embracing their former coach.
The Packers had to gain some sense of satisfaction spoiling McCarthy’s return to Green Bay but it was great to see a classy coach being welcomed back by the fans of Green Bay.
- The Packers Kept Their Playoff Hopes Alive
The Packers are still long shots to make the postseason this year, but the win kept their faint playoff hopes alive and prolongs the competitive part of their season for at least another week.
The Packers are currently 1.5 games behind the 49ers in the race for the final NFC Wild Card spot with seven games to go. While a playoff berth remains unlikely, there is a bit more hope after a satisfying win over a true contender.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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