DALLAS - The Cowboys are on a four-game losing streak and 1-8 all-time at Lambeau Field, the venue for Sunday's 34th meeting between Dallas and Green Bay. The barrage of losing to the Packers is enough to make one amnestic about that lone win on Sept. 21, 2008.
Eight years ago, the story was about how the Cowboys had never won at Lambeau Field.
"I don't think we were even thinking about having not won in franchise history up there," said Patrick Crayton, who played receiver for the Cowboys from 2004-09, said. "We were just going up there with confidence prepared to play. That was it."
Defensive end Greg Ellis, a first-round draft pick from 1998 who stayed with the team until 2008, was aware of the significance of the franchise having been only losers at Lambeau and wanted to be a part of the team to get that first win.
Said Ellis: "Of course it [not winning in Lambeau] was a factor because you want your team, you care about the history of your team, one, even though you weren't on the team but you want to be on that team that breaks that ice that can say, 'We went to Green Bay and we won in Green Bay.' So, that was important to us."
Dallas got off to a great start when cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones forced a Ryan Grant fumble and returned it 21 yards to the Green Bay 14-yard line. It was a play Ellis remembered more than any other about that Sunday Night Football game.
"Adam came in with a lot of baggage and he had to prove to a lot of people that he was still a good football player and all of that," Ellis said. "And for him to make that play in that game helped him get back on track to a long NFL career that he has had."
The Cowboys offense, supposedly back on track with starting left guard Kyle Kosier making his first start after some preseason injuries, went three-and-out and had to settle for a 25-yard Nick Folk field goal to take an early 3-0 lead. The Packers responded with a 10-play, 56-yard drive that ended with kicker Mason Crosby tying the game 3-3 with a 36-yard field goal.
Dallas took the ball at their own 19 and mounted a plodding, 16-play drive that featured nine rushing plays: seven to new starting running back Marion Barber and two to rookie Felix Jones. Sitting at the Green Bay 48-yard line after Barber picked up a first down on third-and-1, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett called a receiver reverse pass, a play they had worked on in training camp and preseason with much success.
Said Crayton: "We knew we figured we'd get man to man on that. It was basically a wide receiver reverse pass. We get our man to man, and I swear it's almost they decided to on the motion shift it and don't worry about the man. And it was like they knew it was coming. So, of course, he takes off. I get the pitch and right away there's a little bit of penetration."
It was almost as if defensive coordinator Bob Sanders knew what was coming. Crayton, who played some quarterback in college at Northwestern Oklahoma State, had to throw to receiver Terrell Owens while being forced to the sideline.
Safety Nick Collins was able to tip the ball away and prevent the big completion. Collins made an even bigger play to end the Dallas drive with an interception of quarterback Tony Romo inside the red zone and a 61-yard return. The Packers offense was unable to get into the end zone and again sent Crosby to hit a 38-yard field goal to take a 6-3 lead with 12:42 in the second quarter.
The Cowboys avoided disaster on a Marion Barber fumble when reserve tight end Tony Curtis scooped up the loose ball and ran 14 yards with it. However, Dallas punted the ball away to Green Bay. The Packers went three-and-out largely due to a Mark Tauscher holding penalty and gave Dallas the ball with 7:53 in the first half at their own 12-yard line.
Barber helped the Cowboys find a little rhythm with a 10-yard run and then a 6-yard rush.
"They were used to Marion," said Crayton. "He's going to hit you, hit you, pop one here and there. Probably not going to go the distance, but he's going to bruise you."
After an Owens 12-yard catch to setup Dallas at their own 40, Garrett decided to unleash Jones' speed on another opponent that had little film on the 22nd overall pick out of Arkansas.
"When Felix was open, it's a wrap," Crayton said. "We knew they weren't going to catch him. One, because they hadn't seen that speed from our running backs and they didn't take the correct angles to get him."
Probably as equally astounding on the play was Owens running with Jones as his blocker 60 yards with the rookie who had scored a touchdown in each of his previous two games.
Said Crayton, who explained how such a mindset of running with the backs was ingrained in them in practice: "At the end of every series of drives during team periods, the last play, everybody on the offense sprinted down to the opposite end zone, which we're always on the 30 so we always sprinted down to the end zone. You're talking about 70 yards after doing the previous 10, 12, however many plays it was in team session. So that's how we always wanted to end every drive: in the end zone. We kind of trained ourselves mentally to prep that that's where we want to be after every drive."
The Cowboys took a 10-6 lead and then added a Folk 39-yard field goal to go into halftime up 13-6 on the Packers.
Another young Cowboys skill position player who Miles Austin, a third-year receiver out of Monmouth who went undrafted in 2006.
"We knew he had the potential," Crayton said. "One, he had the speed and he would catch it. We knew he had the speed and he could catch it."
The Cowboys called Austin's number after the Packers trimmed Dallas' lead 13-9 with a 33-yard Crosby field goal. On first-and-10 from the Dallas 34-yard line, Romo threw a deep ball to Austin that the speedy receiver took all the way down to the 3-yard line.
Said Crayton: "A huge play, and we knew it would be open. It was basically a tight formation with two receivers, five yards off of the tackle and in kind of what we called a staggered formation. It was a tight formation that we had. We knew we would get a switch release and we knew that they weren't going to press the point when it turned out they were running Cover-2 into it. So of course the middle of the field was completely wide open. On the back side what we basically called a deep-7 route where it's probably about a 15 to 18-yard out cut from the receiver on the far side opposite of the twin side, just opposite of the backside safety. And he ran down straight the middle of the field, which is the way we designed the play. We got the look we wanted. It was a beautiful pass and Miles catches it."
Barber pounded the Green Bay defensive front seven twice until finally scoring on a 2-yard touchdown rush to give Dallas a 20-9 lead.
The Cowboys would go back to Austin for another deep pass that he did take 52 yards into the end zone to give the Cowboys a 27-9 lead with 9:17 in the fourth quarter. Austin would finish the game with two catches for 115 yards and a touchdown and be NBC Sports' "Horse Trailer Player of the Game."
But Rodgers, who was in his first season taking over for the iconic Brett Favre at quarterback, would not go quietly into that September night. He would lead the Packers on an 11-play, 87-yard drive culminating with his own 1-yard touchdown rush to give Green Bay slim hope down 27-16 with 2:14 to play.
"He was getting a lot of pressure, not just the media outlets," Crayton explained. "Packers fans. We've seen Brett Favre for decades. What can Aaron Rodgers do? So that was the biggest thing. And our deal was to give him defensively as many looks as we could."
Added Ellis: "We knew that [Rodgers] was a young quarterback but he was a good quarterback. He was hard to sack. That was the biggest thing that stood out in my mind about him. I thought I was going to end up getting a nice, clean hit on him but at the last minute he spun out and I totally missed him."
Though the Pro Bowler from a year prior may have missed Rodgers, his teammates dropped him five times on the night and forced a fumble. Dallas head coach Wade Phillips' defense limited the four-year pro to 22/39 for 290 yards.
"The main thing is that to get a win for the Dallas franchise in a place that had never got one before says a lot," said Ellis. "Because I think Green Bay was shocked. I think they didn't expect that Dallas team to show up. And their fans, I know, were shocked. They were riding high, especially given the history of that game."
The Cowboys were 3-0 again just like 2007, a year that saw them earn the top spot in the NFC playoffs but fall flat their first game against the rival Giants. Dallas felt like they were getting back on track.
"How you handle success can be your worst enemy," Ellis said. "And I have to admit. I don't think our team handled that 13-3 season the way we needed to handle it."
"Everything is always good because winning will cure everything," said Crayton. "So, we're looking great. We're like, 'Good. We're back in the same position we're in previously. Let's not stop. Let's keep it going.' And that was our mindset coming off of it."
In 2016, the Cowboys are on a roll with a four-game winning streak and take their latest rookie running back to Green Bay, who has the league's stingiest rush defense. Just as in 2008, the Cowboys hope to walk out of Lambeau Field with another win for the franchise and keep the momentum going.
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