The Packers played short-handed, but the best team still won

IRVING, Texas -- The temptation is to put an asterisk next to the final score, something to signify that one of the greatest players in NFL history wasn't on the field for most of the game.

I'm going to resist it.

I'm going to take the Dallas Cowboys' 37-27 victory over the Green Bay Packers at face value and for exactly what it was supposed to be -- a battle for supremacy in the NFC.

And I'm going to say that the better team won.

No, we didn't get the full version of the much-awaited showdown between two of the league's most prolific passers, Tony Romo and Brett Favre. Favre left the game in the second quarter after separating his left (non-throwing) shoulder while falling down after his right (throwing) elbow hit a Cowboy helmet. In what had to be a shock to everyone watching in Texas Stadium and on NFL Network, the league's consummate Iron Man never returned.

What we did get was Romo throwing for 309 yards and four touchdowns. As a bonus, we got an impressive relief effort from Aaron Rodgers, who has been virtually invisible for the better part of his three NFL seasons as Favre's understudy.

In the end, the Cowboys proved they had what it took to overcome whatever the Packers threw their way. They are 11-1 on merit, clinching a playoff spot. By virtue of beating the 10-2 Packers, they likely will have home-field advantage through the NFC postseason.

"This was (a game between) two 10-1 teams," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "Somebody had to win and somebody had to step forward. And we stepped forward."

Even when Ryan Grant was ripping off a 62-yard run for the first of his two touchdowns. Even when Rodgers was doing a fairly decent Favre impersonation by completing 16 of 21 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown, and rushing five times for 30 yards.

Truth be told, the Packers' offense actually got a lift when Rodgers entered the game. Up to the time of his injuries, Favre wasn't looking very much like the dominant passer he had been for the majority of the Packers' first 11 games. He completed only 5 of 14 passes for 56 yards and threw two interceptions.

The fact was the Cowboys' pressure-oriented defense was in Favre's face for the lion's share of time he was on the field, and their pass rush threw him off his game. It caused him to throw the interceptions and to misfire on other passes. The Cowboys actually had a harder time dealing with the scrambling of the more mobile Rodgers, but in the end, their defense proved to be too much for him as well.

The Packers' defense, missing cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, was no match for Romo who had plenty of openings to exploit in the secondary and plenty of time to find them. His favorite target, Terrell Owens, was by himself for most of the night in catching seven passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. Jason Witten had six receptions for 67 yards, and Patrick Crayton had three catches, two for scores.

Time after time, Romo's arm dug the Cowboys out of deep down-and-distance holes.

"I don't think we have a good offense," Phillips said. "I think we have a great offense because we can score a lot of points. We can come back from first-and-20. We can move the ball on some good defenses, and Green Bay's defense is awfully good."

So is Romo.

He took another major step in establishing himself as one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. He now has 33 touchdown passes for the season, a Cowboys record, and will likely add many more through the final four weeks of the regular seasonĀ and the playoffs.

"It was exciting to go against a 10-1 team and a team I rooted for growing up (in Burlington, Wisc.)," Romo said. "When I got out there on the field, I said, 'You know, this is pretty neat.' I sat there before the game and said, 'This is why you want to play sports. This is why you want to play in games like these because it really just gets your juices flowing and you get excited and the competitor in you wants to come out and show that you're a decent player.'

"And I thought our team rose to the challenge tonight."

Yes, the Cowboys did. That's why they're the best team in the NFC. And that's why there might be a reason to look forward to a potential rematch with the New England Patriots, who beat them fairly soundly on Oct. 14, in February.

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