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Packers take over North with edgy win over Cowboys

The Green Bay Packers (9-4) took over sole possession of the NFC North with Sunday's gritty 28-7 win over the Dallas Cowboys (4-9). Here's what you need to know:

  1. With coach Mike McCarthy taking back Green Bay's playcalling, the Packers shook off an early goal-line stand by the Cowboys to score a pair of first-half touchdowns. It looked like the offense might explode from there, but too many drives still ended in punts for an attack gifted with Aaron Rodgers under center. Last year's MVP was marvelous out of the gate, drawing first blood off a well-designed, 13-yard screen pass to James Starks that baffled the Dallas secondary. From there, Rodgers finished 22-of-35 passing for 218 yards and two touchdowns as McCarthy unfurled a balanced attack that piled up 230 yards on the ground and another 205 through the air. Give the Dallas defense credit for hanging around, but there was no stopping the Packers once their ground game caught fire down the stretch.
  1. How often do you see two teams stopped at the goal line on back-to-back drives? Before the Packers fizzled out at the Dallas 1, Cowboys quarterback Matt Cassel authored a red-zone meltdown of his own, throwing an interception on his opening drive that bounced off Dez Bryant's hands in the end zone. Unlike the Packers, though, Dallas couldn't rely on their signal-caller to play the hero. Cassel was putrid, passing for 3.9 yards per attempt and repeatedly throwing short of the sticks as Dallas finished 1-of-11 on third downs.
  1. About getting those playmakers involved: Packers wideout Randall Cobb piled up his most catches (eight) since Week 2 and yards (81) since Week 9, while hard-charging Eddie Lacy ripped through the Cowboys for 124 yards at 5.2 yards per rush, making his biggest runs as the fourth quarter ticked away. Lacy looks healthy and powerful, but don't forget about Starks (11/71), who sealed the game with a beautiful 30-yard touchdown burst that helped Green Bay pile up their most yards on the ground since Week 12 of 2004.
  1. Give Darren McFadden some love. After a 50-yard rumble in the first half, the Cowboys back (9/111) opened the third quarter with a 45-yard dart down the sideline. Robert Turbin then ripped off a 22-yard run before slicing in for a seven-yard score to cut Green Bay's lead to 14-7. Cassel didn't throw a pass on the drive, which is the best way to use Matt Cassel.
  1. A head injury to Sam Shields left first-round Packers cornerback Damarious Randall to cover Bryant. With just one catch for nine yards when Randall took over, Dez was shut out down the stretch with three killer drops against a Packers defense that countered by using three-safety looks over the final two quarters.
  1. Green Bay's Jeff Janis was the game's standout special-teamer, blowing up a pair of punt returns that kept the Cowboys at bay.
  1. The loss leaves Dallas two games behind the Redskins and Eagles, and one game behind the Giants in the NFC East. Barring a miracle, it's curtains for the Cowboys. It's not true for the Packers though, who own the North and remain poised for the NFC's third seed with games left against the Raiders, Cardinals and Vikings.
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