A turning point for Cowboys? Why loss to Packers isn't 'just one game'

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Dak Prescott sat dejectedly at his locker, staring at nothing.

Oh, to know what was running through the mind of the Dallas Cowboys quarterback after the thousands of decisions he made during Sunday’s 31-28 overtime loss at the Green Bay Packers.

“I mean, every loss is disappointing to me,” Prescott said. “I hate to lose. Yeah, and when somebody says it’s one game, I don’t care if it’s practice, it doesn’t feel good to me. I hate it. That’s who I am.”

It was just one loss in a season that has eight regular-season games left to play. But this was, in Prescott’s words, a playoff atmosphere. This was a chance to establish themselves as a legitimate NFC contender even if they don't end up winning the NFC East. This was a chance to all but eliminate their nemesis Aaron Rodgers. This was a chance to make coach Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay homecoming a memorable one.

The Cowboys left with the same questions, especially for their run defense that not even the bye week could fix. The Packers ran for 207 yards on 39 carries with 138 yards from Aaron Jones. This came after the Cowboys allowed 240 yards rushing to the Chicago Bears in Week 8. It’s the second time in three seasons the Cowboys have allowed at least 200 yards rushing in back-to-back games.

The Cowboys entered the contest allowing just 16.6 points per game, good for third in the NFL, yet the defense could not hold a 28-14 lead in the fourth quarter. On the Packers’ two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, Dallas allowed 165 yards.

And it wasn’t just the run defense. They allowed four pass plays of at least 20 yards, including touchdowns of 58 and 39 yards to rookie Christian Watson. In contrast, they allowed just 13 pass plays of 20 yards or more in the first eight games.

Next, the Cowboys say hello to Minnesota Vikings superstar wide receiver Justin Jefferson -- who had 10 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown in Week 10 against the Buffalo Bills, including four catches of at least 20 yards -- and running back Dalvin Cook, who had 119 yards rushing, mostly on an 81-yard touchdown. Cook is followed in Week 12 by the Giants’ Saquon Barkley, who had 152 yards rushing in New York’s win against the Houston Texans on Sunday.

“I mean, I think it’s disgusting,” linebacker Micah Parsons said. “It’s something that just can’t happen. Like, it’s bad. We got to be able to finish games in this league, especially when it’s guys like [Aaron] Rodgers. You got to be able to finish. Finish. Finish. Finish. That’s what this game is about. People can say it’s just one game, but things like this can’t just happen. Bad things tend to repeat. We got to clean this up and stop it, like now.”

The offense couldn’t finish, either. After receiver CeeDee Lamb’s 35-yard touchdown catch at 2:47 in the third quarter, the Cowboys ran 14 plays in the fourth quarter and gained 47 yards.

“We just have to be better,” Prescott said. “They were better in the moments that mattered. Period.”

Penalties hurt again, with nine of them for 83 yards, including two in overtime that McCarthy thought were questionable and cost the Cowboys 25 rushing yards.

“We have to fix that moving forward because it was kind of our Achilles' heel last year,” All-Pro right guard Zack Martin said, “and we’re not going to let it be this year.”

At 6-3, the Cowboys find themselves in third place in the NFC East behind the Philadelphia Eagles (8-0) and Giants (7-2).

The Cowboys won’t have to wait long to show how good they can be.

On Sunday, they play at the 8-1 Vikings, who pulled off an incredible overtime win against the Bills on Sunday. Four days after that game is the Giants’ Thanksgiving Day visit to AT&T Stadium.

With three losses, the Cowboys’ postseason path looks more like wild card than division champ at the moment, considering the Eagles are undefeated.

“I’m not worried about that, no,” McCarthy said. “There’s a lot of football to be played. We just crossed the halfway line. We just got to take care of our own business, clean our own house. … We’ve got enough to focus on. So, yeah, if we take care of our own business, we’ll get to where we want to go.”