GREEN BAY, Wis — No one gets revenge 47 years later. So there’s more to this than simply avenging an Ice Bowl defeat the week that Jethro Pugh, victimized by Lombardi’s Packers on that fateful day, passes away.
Then again it’s not all about the numbers, either, because the numbers say that the Cowboys don’t lose on the road and Green Bay does not lose at home this season. Something has to change.
Give me the team that has demonstrated its road superiority. We have NFL teams that go 8-0 at home basically every season. Crowd noise and the occasional favorable officiating call (do the Cowboys know anything about that?) tend to help the home squad on a weekly basis.
But teams that achieve perfection on the road are rare, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve got Ice Bowl II (preferably with no ice involved) finishing this way:
Cowboys 27, Packers 20.
I’d prefer to make it 21-17 to repeat the score with a different winner from the famous 1967 NFL Championship when the teams fought on the truly “frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field. But the kickoff temperature figures to be about 30 degrees warmer Sunday for this contest, and the defenses seem likely to serve up just a few more points than was the case two generations ago.
Let’s start with the road strength. Only six teams have gone 8-0 on the road since the 1970 merger. It takes a special quality to perform that consistently under adverse conditions, and head coach Jason Garrett’s “home, road, moon, parking lot” mantra has sunk in with this 2014 squad.
“It’s how I grew up, to be honest with you,” Garrett said this week. “It’s [an attitude of] no excuses. Don’t tell me who you’re playing, don’t tell me where you’re playing, it’s your responsibility to be your best. The great players and coaches that I’ve been around have had that attitude.”
Certainly the Cowboys took advantage of some weak road opponents, but they won in Seattle, too, where otherwise the Seahawks are 22-1 in the last three regular seasons.
Dallas’ defense has played better on the road than at home, and that’s going to have to continue to be true Sunday. The Cowboys don’t get many sacks, but they have pressured quarterbacks effectively, and with Aaron Rodgers dealing with that much-discussed calf injury, forcing him to move around is paramount.
I think the more important stat that favors the Dallas defense is the run defense. Even though a relatively pleasant afternoon is anticipated at Lambeau Field, we are still talking about 18 degrees. The team that runs the ball more reliably has to have a greater chance of victory.
And the Cowboys have more than NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray on their side. The Cowboys ranked eighth in the league against the run this season. The Packers ranked 23rd.
Statistically, Murray wasn’t as great down the stretch as he was early in the season. But finishing with 100 yards against Washington, then picking up another 75 against Detroit has to signal he’s back. On a cold day, someone with the explosive speed of Joseph Randle has the chance to be a difference-maker as well whenever his limited opportunities arise.
Beyond that, much of the pressure falls on Tony Romo. And for Dallas in 2014, that’s never a bad thing, certainly not away from home where he delivered 20 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in that 8-0 regular-season run.
Romo knows what’s at stake, and having grown up in Wisconsin, he’s more than aware of the Lambeau Field mystique. But Romo won there in 2008, and ever since Michael Vick broke through in leading the Falcons to an upset playoff win there in the 2002 postseason, the Packers are 3-5 in home playoff games.
There’s nothing magical about that.
The Cowboys and Garrett grew weary last week hearing about how fortunate they were to have officials’ calls go their way in a 24-20 victory over Detroit. But sometimes the Cowboys did need luck on their side to get the job done at home this season.
On the road, this team has been good more often than lucky. A little pressure on Rodgers and a lot more of what we have seen all year from Murray and Romo on opponents’ soil should produce a major win, even on ground as hallowed as Lambeau Field.