Packers shock Cowboys, set to face 49ers in divisional round

ARLINGTON, Texas — The NFC’s No. 2-seeded Dallas Cowboys came into Sunday’s wild-card game as heavy favorites against the No. 7-seeded Green Bay Packers, but they were never even in the game.

The Packers scored on their first possession, built a 20-point lead by halftime and never looked back on the way to a 48-32 victory.

Green Bay now heads west to face the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers next week in the divisional round.

After once again going 12-5 in the regular season and not advancing in the playoffs, the Cowboys head into the offseason facing questions about the futures of coach Mike McCarthy, quarterback Dak Prescott and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

Green Bay Packers

These aren’t the young Packers anymore. They’re Jordan Love‘s Packers.

In his first playoff game, the first-year starting quarterback — surrounded by the youngest group of pass-catchers in the NFL — turned in a performance for the ages in Sunday’s win over the Cowboys.

As if Love’s impressive regular season — with 32 touchdown passes, second in the NFL to Prescott — wasn’t enough to excite an organization that’s trying to strike quarterback gold for the third straight time (Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre), then Sunday’s sheer dominance should do the trick.

Love finished 16-of-21 for 272 yards and three touchdowns with a 157.2 passer rating.

He joins Baker Mayfield (48 points) and Rodgers (45) as the only quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to lead their team to at least 40 points on the road in their first playoff start.

Describe the game in two words: Upset City. The Packers, who had to win their regular-season finale to make it to the postseason, were 7.5-point underdogs, which made this the franchise’s largest upset win in the playoffs since the 1995 divisional round, when the Packers won at San Francisco as 10-point underdogs.

Promising trend: Imagine if the Packers had Aaron Jones all season; they might have been hosting playoff games. After missing six regular-season games (three because of a hamstring and three for a knee injury), the running back entered the playoffs on a streak of three straight 100-yard rushing games.

Jones on Sunday rushed for 118 yards and scored three times — including the game’s first two touchdowns — continuing a run of dominance over the Cowboys. He now has nine touchdowns in four career games against Dallas.

Promising trend II: Who needs a clear-cut No. 1 receiver? Apparently not Love. Romeo Doubs became the third different receiver in as many games to go over 100 yards. Doubs hit that mark in the first half against the Cowboys and finished with six catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. Last week, it was Jayden Reed (112 yards) against the Bears. The week before, it was Bo Melton (105) against the Vikings.

Pivotal play(s): Before Sunday, neither Jaire Alexander nor Darnell Savage had an interception this season. That all changed in the first half. Alexander, who was questionable because of an ankle injury, picked off Prescott deep in Cowboys territory to set up Jones’ second touchdown that made it a 14-0 lead. Then, on the first play after the two-minute warning in the first half, Savage snagged one and returned it 64 yards for a 27-0 lead with 1:50 left in the second quarter. It was the Packers’ first defensive touchdown in a playoff game since the 2012 divisional round at San Francisco, when Sam Shields had a pick-six.

Eye-popping NFL Next Gen stat: Savage reached a max speed of 20.82 mph on his pick-six. That was the third-fastest speed on any Packers touchdown this season. — Rob Demovsky

Next game: at San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 20 or 21.

Dallas Cowboys

A season that looked full of promise — a third straight 12-5 finish, an NFC East title and a path to an NFC Championship Game with two games at AT&T Stadium, where the Cowboys went 8-0 in the regular season — ended with such a thud that only questions remain.

The Cowboys were dismantled by the Packers in every way possible.

This leads to questions about coach Mike McCarthy’s future, quarterback Dak Prescott‘s long-term viability and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s potential departure. This is what happens when there is such a putrid performance that it was the largest home playoff loss in franchise history. The previous worst was a 38-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the 1969 Eastern Championship Game.

Since making their last appearance in a conference championship game in 1995, the Cowboys have eight one-and-done playoff appearances. They have done it as the No. 1 seed twice (2007, 2016) and now as the No. 2 seed.

Describe the game in two words: Absolutely pitiful. With the chance to get to an NFC Championship Game via two home games, the Cowboys laid down in the first half, trailing 27-0 at one point.

QB breakdown: Prescott threw two interceptions in the first half, including one that was returned for a touchdown that upped the Green Bay lead to 27-0. The last time a Cowboys quarterback gave up a pick-six in the playoffs was when Troy Aikman did it in the 1994 NFC Championship Game.

Prescott had one multi-interception game in the regular season (three at San Francisco). It was his second multi-pick playoff game in the past two years. Prescott, who led the league with 36 touchdown passes, never looked comfortable against a Packers defense that had not been considered elite at any point of the season. His connection with receiver CeeDee Lamb was missing, especially in the first half when they failed to hook up on four passes. Prescott was 13-of-13 on throws to Lamb in the regular-season finale, and he was 9-of-18 Sunday.

Pivotal play: Let’s go back to the third play of the game. The Cowboys had Green Bay in a second-and-13 situation, and Jordan Love found receiver Romeo Doubs for 22 yards in a huge hole in the Dallas defense with zero pressure on him. Nine plays later, the Packers took a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Doubs catch was a sign of things to come, because the Cowboys couldn’t guard him all game. In the first three quarters, he had catches of 22, 26, 39, 15 and 46 yards. The Cowboys had nine games this season in which they did not allow four pass plays of 20 yards. Doubs had that by himself in three quarters.

Troubling trend: Quinn does not want to see offenses from the Kyle Shanahan tree. Packers coach Matt LaFleur might have been on Quinn’s staff in Atlanta, but he picked up his offense from Shanahan, now 49ers coach. Shanahan has beat the Cowboys in each of the past three seasons, including 42-10 this season at San Francisco. Miami’s Mike McDaniel, who coached under Shanahan in San Francisco, was able to get the best of Quinn in December. LaFleur had Quinn’s defense on a string all day, whether the Cowboys were in man or zone coverage or whether they blitzed or played coverage. — Todd Archer

Next game: The Cowboys’ 2023 season is over.

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