Monday, February 18, 2008

No. 1 Versus No. 2: The Last Time

By now you've heard about the college basketball game that will take over ESPN's airwaves by about 6 PM Friday and will surely change the fate of the world as we know it: No. 1 Memphis hosts No. 2 Tennessee on Saturday.

Both ESPN and USA Today note that the last time this happened, it matched No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 it was a defensive, Big 10 Special saved by drama at the end.

Well, they omit the actual description of the game, but that's where people with time to spare come in: They also omit that Wisconsin had the audacity to cheapen the thrill by dropping a game to Michigan State en route to their clash of the titans.

Bo Ryan, Wisconsin's coach, said that loss had nothing to do with pressure. Yeah, sure. Maybe you should have kept the team more loose with his contemporary dance skills.

One can only hope John Calipari and Bruce Pearl start learning this before their teams' dates against Tulane and Auburn, respectively, on Wednesday.

Else, Memphis may not burn on Saturday night as a fan base fueled by hard liquor, frustration at incessant incest jokes, and general dissatisfaction with the state of Tennessee reacts to a loss. And that would be a shame.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Live Blog: Seahawks-Packers

My predictions: Green Bay 31, Seattle 20, and if we keep seeing that Matt Hasselbeck StateFarm commercial, that I may well not finish this blog because I throw a sandwich through the TV.

Green Bay wins the toss and takes the ball; it's about 30 degrees, it's already sprinkling snowflakes on the Frozen Tundra, and we've seen the "We want the ball and we're gonna score" clip from last weekend once.

Of those three things, the first two won't change.

Short kickoff, but Tramon Williams stumbles and the Packers will open up inside their own 20. Seahawk Josh Scobey goes down with an apparent high ankle sprain and is carted off.

Now that we know the Green Bay offense is "dynamic" and that their "chemistry has come together," I feel much more confident in the team's chances.

Oh, but the Seahawks D is a "fraternity." I suppose I should be impressed by that, and not immediately think they're all drunk.

Screen to Ryan Grant is bobbled, Grant stumbles, and Lofa Tatupu punches the ball out and the Seahawks will return it to the Green Bay 1.

Shaun Alexander plunges in for the first score of the game.

With just 20 seconds off the clock, it's 7-0, Seattle.

Williams neither stumbles nor ends up inside the 20; Green Bay will start at the 35.

Brett Favre hands off to Grant, and he carries off tackle left for 8. Now he's a "dynamic playmaker," too, but the only dynamics that seem to be changing are those of the game, as Grant coughs it up again, this time at midfield, and the Seahawks recover.

And instantly, the Packers' Nick Barnett roughs up a wideout and Seattle's got a first down at the 43. Short pass to Nate Burleson gets sevent. The dive play to Alexander nets three yards and a first down. A pass left to D.J. Hackett goes for six; for the third straight play, the Packers D closes quickly and tackles soundly.

And Deion Branch meets the turf, clutching his ankle.

Ryan Seacrest hosting the Super Bowl pregame show obviously means that some parts of the Writers' Guild are working, because that man has no original thoughts.

A handoff to Alexander goes nowhere, and this third and 3 has Lambeau roaring; Hasselbeck has plenty of time, and finds Ben Obomanu to get a first down and get into the red zone.

Nice play-action, and Hasselbeck guns a pass to Bobby Engram for six. But Mike McCarthy notes that one of the three Green Bay defenders hurled Engram out of bounds, and out comes the red flag.

Ruling on the field is a forceout; that can't be challenged, so the margin grows to 14 as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" takes us to break, Seattle 14, Green Bay 0.

Teen Spirit ain't nearly strong enough for the Pack right now.

Williams gets it to the 30, then just stands there as a circle of freestylers forms around him.

Kudos to the Fox truck for producing the stat showing how little Green Bay has trailed this year; Favre's first pass of the day goes to Greg Jennings on a post for a first down.

Miraculously, Grant doesn't fumble on a toss right. Favre then scrambles right, can't find anyone, and gets clotheslined by a Seahawk. Thrid and 7 and Favre finds James Jones more open than a Kardashian; Jones picks up about 20 in YAC yards and the Packers are at Seattle's 21.

"LEE" cascades from the stands as Favre hits Donald Lee for 5. Pretty outside move freezes Kelly Jennings, and the unrelated Greg Jennings catches a TD for the Pack.

It's 14-7, Seattle.

Matt Hasselbeck has a sense of humor, if nothing else, and that's nice. But there's already one too many Hasselbecks on TV (I'm looking at you, former Elisabeth Filarski), so these commercials are unnecessary.

Burleson gets the 'Hawks to the 30 or so. Hasselbeck follows my order to get off my TV by rushing two passes out of his hand towards nothing in particular.

Third and 10 and we hear the "electricity's back" at Lambeau; this is good, I'm sure, because Tony Siragusa relies on the conveyor belt from the press box to relay him information and pastrami.

Offsides makes it third and 5, but Hasselbeck gets wrapped up; the Aaron Plackemeier punt is short, and caroms out of bounds around the Green Bay 40.

Favre opens the drive with a short pass to Driver. On second and 7, Favre is chased right by Julian Peterson, the pass glances off a Packer's fingertips, and could have been picked. Green Bay calls timeout before third and 7.

(How is Prison Break still on? I thought they escaped...)

Good to see Matt Leinart's still getting work, too.

Seattle Slew gets shoed for the Fox camera. That was nice.

A rare Bubba Franks sighting on a tight end gets Green Bay to within inches of the yellow line, thanks to a rather poor spot; the Packers challenge, and the ball will be respotted, and remeasured.

The respot isn't much better than the original, but it's still a first down.

Incredibly, there's still 4:43 left in the first quarter...

Ryan Grant doesn't fumble again, and gets 7. Slant to Jennings in an enormous cushion, and Marcus Trufant wraps him up just beyond the first-down marker. Then, Grant doesn't fumble spectacularly, gashing Seattle up the gut for 26.

Then he goes right, hurdles a 'Hawk, and gets down to the 1.

Is it safe to say Ryan Grant is angry? Well, so is LeRoy Hill, who blasts Grant for no gain on first and goal.

No such luck for the Seahawks on second down, as Grant crosses the line before the hit.

It's tied up at 14 with 1:02 left in the first quarter.

Snow at Lambeau, 28 first-quarter points, playoffs, angry Packers team? This could be a classic.

A Seattle holding penalty will make it second and very long when the second quarter begins.

After one: Green Bay 14, Seattle 14.

That "American Idol" commercial gave new meaning to "huge star." And I am frightened.

Atari Bigby hit-sticks Marcus Pollard, and Green Bay will recover the fumble inside the Seahawk 20.

Favre tosses a screen to Grant, who scampers to the 6. On first and goal, Grant grinds for two yards over left guard. Seattle calls timeout before second down.

(The first quarter was the highest-scoring in NFL playoff history; previously, that record was...well, I'll figure that out.)

Favre lofts a balloon to Jennings in the corner of the endzone, and in short order, it will be Green Bay 21, Seattle 14.

This game is like an electric football game played on ice; I can't imagine anything more exciting.

And the Seahawks get it to Hackett in the flat on second down, and he runs into...

...Atari Bigby again. Game over. (I got 'em for days, folks.)

Hasselbeck can't field the snap, and crawls forward, but won't get enough for the first down. The punt is almost blocked, but that'll be a 15-yard penalty, and Plackemeier may be in some pain. Brandon Jackson's the culprit.

Seattle's new life begins with a couple of passes, the second to Burleson, who shakes two tacklers and narrowly avoids death by a Packer defender not named Atari Bigby in getting down to the Packer 21.

Bigby breaks up the first down pass, but the second down pass to Engram gets the 'Hawks down to the 13.

First, the most athletic play of the season; then, getting swallowed up in the backfield. Shaun Alexander: a story in parallels.

Atari Bigby blows up Hackett on third down, and Josh Brown converts the field goal.

It's Green Bay 21, Seattle 17.

Ryan Grant continues his revenge with a brutal stiff-arm on a sweep and a plunge to get the Pack to their 30. Jennings then atones for a first down drop with a sliding third down catch for a new set of downs. Hell, even Brandon Jackson pays some penance with a seven-yard carry.

I'm sensing a theme.

(The Packers have drummers? Okay...)

Driver makes a couple catches and a couple of shifty moves, and gets the Packers somewhere in Seahawk territory; it's impossible to tell in this snow.

Favre evades pressure on second down, and fires deep to Driver, who cries for pass interference and may have had a good case.

A third down throw to James Jones gets Green Bay within the red zone. The Packers haven't missed on third down yet (4-4), and when Ryan Grant isn't fumbling, the dink and dunk attack looks rather unstoppable.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Snow" takes us to break at the two-minute warning. Inspired, Fox.

Also inspired: Brett Favre whirling out of a sack, stumbling away from pressure, and flipping an underhanded ball to Donald Lee, who hurdles a defender to get the first down. (Going to find video of this play.)

Then Grant scores his second touchdown of the day on a dive over left guard.

It's Green Bay 28, Seattle 17, and I'm pretty sure all that's going to happen in the second half is a trade of field goals to make my prediction perfect. (Starry-eyed optimist, I am.)

The next time I watch "The Terminator," I will be cheering for Ahnold to kill all so I don't have to suffer through these insipid commericials.

As we go to the half, it's still Green Bay 28, Seattle 17.

Halftime quick hits: At least Matt Hasselbeck is outplaying Brett Favre in commercials; if the Seahawks defense isn't going to cover Packers receivers underneath, they could try to tackle them; Green Bay's defense, Atari Bigby in particular, is swarming to the ball; and Ryan Grant is angry.

Thus begins the second half, with a standard Burleson return to about the 25.

Hasselbeck slings the first pass off Charles Woodson's arm; the second pass is complete, but Nick Collins streaks to the receiver and arm-tackles him. Seahawks nemesis Al Harris breaks up the deep third down try, and Seattle will punt.

Williams returns it for a couple yards. Green Bay will start near their 40.

Grant picks up where he left off, carrying up the middle for five yards. Fox's drive summaries prove what Packers fans already suspected: The order is out to avoid Jon Ryan punting by all means.

Third down, and, of course, Favre hits Jennings for about twenty up the sideline. And, of course, Grant charges up the middle for another double-digit chunk of yardage.

First down is a one-yard loss for Grant, but Favre finds Brandon Jackson in the flat, and he steams into the end zone to extend Green Bay's lead.

It's Green Bay 35, Seattle 17.

A six-yard run and an incomplete pass (Leonard Weaver, meet Nick Barnett) make it third and 4, but Hasselbeck finds a receiver for the first down.

Then, another long pass, this one complete. While both Harris and Woodson get flagged for holding, both penalties are declined; Atari Bigby's shoulder makes the tackle.

A short pass to Burleson gets a yard, but it will be called back after a holding call on Engram.

The Packers stop Alexander in the backfield on first down, and hold him to nine on the second down screen.

Third and ten, Hasselbeck has time, fires and hits Engram. Harris hits him, too, but the Seahawks have a first down at the Green Bay 22. The sweep right goes nowhere, but Green Bay gets nailed for illegal substitution, so it's going to be first and five.

Hasselbeck sidearms a pass, and it gets four yards, though Harris tackles the receiver immediately. Weaver rushes for the first down.

Another run gets stuffed for a loss of one yard, and Marcus Pollard can't catch the second down pass in the end zone. The snow is now coming down hard, and at a 45 degree angle, and it's practically impossible to see, even on TV.

Third down pass nets three, and Josh Brown will kick. His 27-yarder is true.

The score: Green Bay 35, Seattle 20.

Green Bay is getting what seems like a full-on blizzard right now; you're not going to forget watching this game, purely because of the weather, for about 20 years.

The Packers chip away on first and second down; Ryan Grant bursts for 40 yards around left end, and the Fox overhead camera is all but kaput; they're using all the various angles to get good shots.

Jackson strains to get 10 and another first down on the dive up the middle, and we will end the third quarter on that note.

The score hasn't changed from the last time I posted it, so scroll up.

First down is bottled up; second down sees Favre juke a defender and throw incomplete to Lee, but a LeRoy Hill roughing the passer penalty makes it first and goal from the 3. Grant gets two on first down, and six on second down, to finally give him more touchdowns than fumbles.

Post extra-point, not that anyone could actually see it, it's Green Bay 42, Seattle 20.

(The Packers are currently on a 42-6 run. Even Roy Williams is envious.)

I think Fox has given up on this game being competitive if they're showing promos for the Giants-Cowboys tomorrow.

Seattle got to third and two with a first down run and an incomplete pass, and Tramon Williams' coverage on third down will get Seattle to fourth down quite nicely.

The punt bounces harmlessly to the Green Bay 30 or so; that just gives Ryan Grant room to cut back and race for 28 more yards.

The encore is a one-yard run up the middle.

(Inexplicably, Tony Siragusa's jacket seems snow-free. This saddens me, because I cannot call him Grey Goose. Oh, wait...)

And we learn Ryan Grant has as many degrees from Notre Dame as he has fumbles today; Fox has the bullpen working the truck now. Grant runs twice for four yards combined, and...well, Jon Ryan averted disaster for once, punting for the first time today and putting the ball inside Seattle's 20.

No one has told Seattle to give up yet, so Hasselbeck may as well pass to Ben Obomanu for a first down. And Maurice Morris may as well run for two up the middle.

First "major facemask" I've ever heard, by Corey Williams, sets Green Bay back 15. The icy ball slips out of Hasselbeck's hand, and a scrum ensues, but the ruling is an incompletion.

Charles Woodson nearly picks off the second down pass, and immediately turns into a frozen statue on the ground. Al Harris nails Obomanu to break up the third down pass, and Obomanu will stay on the ground as we go to commercial.

No surprise, Hasselbeck tries to hit Pollard over the middle, but the ball flits through his hands.

Surprise: A long stretch of exposed turf appeared as soon as we got back from commercial break.

Jackson runs left for about 13; this may be the first time a team has had two running backs with talent and something to prove at this point in the season. Jackson then gets wrapped up twice for no gain on first and second down as Kenny Albert shouts-out the scoreboard operator.

For no apparent reason, third down is a pass, and Favre's ball floats just out of Ruvell Martin's grasp. The punt goes into the end zone.

Hasselbeck gets snowed under by Cullen Jenkins and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Then Weaver gets stopped on second and 22. Then the gain of 10 on third down makes it fourth and 15.

This, Seahawks fans, is your football team.

Jackson for two to the right, and Favre leaves the field to a standing ovation. (Don't think this is his last game at Lambeau, but it could be, and that could be the last memory; if so, it's fitting.)

I think Aaron Rodgers just handed the ball off and didn't get hurt. It's a victory.

And he did it again! Doesn't even matter that the field has a happy trail again.

This has been a rather good day for a Packers fan like me.

Somehow, Seattle's gotten a first down, but time is going to run out.

The final: Green Bay 42, Seattle 20.

(Current headline: "Snow Place Like It." Hey, it beats "Fast and Flurrious," which, I swear, was in that same space at the beginning of the third quarter.)

Post-game analysis to come later.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Keep Up, Tiger

In my eyes, Tiger Woods is the world's best and most transcendent athlete; not only is he rewriting the record books of a sport old enough those marks could have been scribbled by quill, he's doing it with charm, candor, and enough pathos to headline a Shakespeare festival.

That said, there's some things he could do that would transcend mere athletics. And I agree with Scoop: he should do them.

I understand the logic that gets Michael Jordan to say "Republicans buy sneakers, too," and I understand it's made Tiger, for lack of better words, unbelievably wealthy.

But even MJ had his rougher edges, like the gambling woes he reportedly had in the mid-90s, and while he was the world's most famous man for a time, his reign was not in the era of media immersion we're in now.

Tiger's is.

Even as relative a nobody as Ira Newble advocating for change gets press and can mean real results. The number of Cavalier fans who did something about Darfur after his open letter, however small, is greater than the number who would have done so without it.

Imagine the impact Tiger could have.

Remember that Nike commercial with Tiger chiding Roger Federer for lagging behind in their Grand Slam rivalry?

Well, Ali is the high-water mark for all transcendent athletes.

Keep up, Tiger.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Live Blog: Packers-Cowboys

I'm live blogging this both because I enjoy it and because I know people will want to watch the game and don't have NFL Network. I know, it's a fantastic public service by a daring man in defiance of NFL game account reproduction regulations.

Standard return gets the Packers out to the 30. Green Bay comes out in their Big 5 and Brett Favre completes to Ruvell Martin for 12 on the first play from scrimmage. Favre airmails the first-down pass over a falling receiver. Gift offsides call wipes out a possible Favre fumble. Excellent catch by Jones, who cradles a low ball at the Dallas 43. Favre fires deep and misses a diving James Jones, who had a step on Jacques Reeves. Ryan Grant's first run of the night gains six. A toss left gets two. A long ball to Driver is thwarted by good coverage from Terence Newman. The Mason Crosby field goal from 47 is plenty long and down the pipes. 3-0, Packers.

Nice return up the sideline will give the Cowboys good field position to start their first possession. (Are we going to be watching the same seven commercials over and over tonight? If so, I see why most of us can't get NFLN.) Julius Jones gets bottled up after two yards up the middle. Terrell Owens rips down a jump ball over Al Harris; Harris comes out with the ball and gestures wildly, drawing a five-yard delay of game flag. On replay, he obviously strips the ball cleanly. And the Packers challenge as we go to commercial. (Question of the moment: Is Mangini throwing his phone at Belichick's car? Or Pennington's?) Green Bay loses the challenge, which was apparently only about whether Owens made the catch, but all NFLN viewers heard was the loss of the Packers' timeout. A soft Tony Romo screen to Julius Jones nets about twenty. And then Jones plunges for another five over left guard. The third-down draw only gets three, and Dallas will be forced to kick. Nick Folk is true from 30, and it's 3-3.

Winding return only gets to the 19. Favre hits Koren Robinson on a drag for 7. A toss to Grant gets nothing as Roy Williams greets him rudely at the line of scrimmage. Favre's pocket collapses on third down and he throws the ball at the feet of Jones. The punt return by Patrick Crayton brings the Cowboys to about their 30.

Marion Barber III sees his first action of the night, and gets five. Romo hits Owens on a curl and he scampers out of bounds for the first down. Another two-yard run by Barber, and Bryant Gumbel welcomes the online and mobile viewers. Barber goes right, finds daylight, and carries Atari Bigby for five yards on the tail end of a twenty-yard run. Romo throws high and misses a well-covered Owens to his right. Barber cuts back and gets two, then Romo finds an open Owens on a slant, only to have him lose focus and drop the ball. Folk is good from 51; Dallas takes a 6-3 lead.

Tramon Williams runs into a few Cowboys and is stopped at the Green Bay 22. Favre steps back on a play-action, has to throw off his back foot, still gets slammed, and throws a pick. All in all, an inauspicious play.

Romo rolls right and finds a wide open Owens, who secures this one and gets all the way down to the Packer 7. Jones churns for three underneath. Romo steps back, waits, and rifles one to Patrick Crayton in the back of the end zone. And the Smile Bowl is 13-3, Cowboys.
Koren Robinson works his way to the 30. Interesting to see how Green Bay responds to a larger deficit than they've had in weeks. A screen to Grant gets three. Play-action, again, and Favre scrambles to get away, then overthrows Driver on corner. Favre's pass on third down caroms off a receiver's hands, but a 12 men on the field penalty erases it. Dallas calls timeout, their first. Shocker on third down: Ryan Grant bursts through the line and streaks, untouched, all the way to the pretty blue painted area. It's 13-10 after the extra point. There's a second left in the first quarter, and this has the makings of a shootout.

A surprise Green Bay onside kick and recovery is negated by an illegal touching penalty on John Kuhn, the fullback whose crushing block created room for Grant on the touchdown run. They'll re-kick; Dallas gets to the 50 on the return, but a holding penalty will bring it back as the quarter ends.

It's Dallas 13, Green Bay 10 after fifteen minutes of play.

To start this drive, Romo cocks back and delivers to Owens for a 48-yarder; only a good open-field tackle by Bigby saves the touchdown. The first-down run gets two. Romo waits, lofts one just over a leaping Jarrett Bush, and finds Anthony Fasano, who stumbles into the end zone. The PAT makes it 20-10, and we have one punt between the two teams.

(That Verizon commercial was funny; the Venus (like its big brother, the Voyager) is the first of many iPhone killers to hit the market, and it'll be interesting to see how that works out.)

Green Bay kick return: good yardage, yes; holding penalty, yes. They start with a run to the left, and gain three. Deion Sanders commences talking to nothing and no one again; that's going to be fairly annoying. Grant goes left and picks up a first down. A flea-flicker goes deep to a double-covered Driver and falls harmlessly; the Packers seem to have abandoned their short passing game that got them here and are bombing Dallas with no success. Another deep ball bounces out of one Cowboy's hands. Then, miraculously, a slant to Greg Jennings gets a first down. Grant's run on the first down is sniffed out by Chris Canty, who stops him for a loss of two. Favre is hit as he throws on second and 12, and the duck is snatched by Terence Newman on an impressive dive. Possession changes hands, and Favre walks off the field holding his wrist and wincing.

Romo airs it out for Terry Glenn, and Jarrett Bush pulls him down by the shoulder; the interference call gets Dallas down to the 5. A false start backs them up to the 10. A Romo lob to an airborne Fasano squirts out of his arms as gravity does its work. Dallas challenges, and fails. An obviously distressed Romo can only answer with a gunned pass to Owens, nice and open in the end zone. It's now Dallas 27, Green Bay 10.

Uh-oh for Packer fans: Aaron Rodgers is now in the game, probably because Favre's ailing. (Update: while Favre could justifiably been yanked for poor play early, obviously, a separated shoulder and an elbow injury that left him unable to grip the football made return impossible.) His first pass skitters harmlessly away. Grant gets three on his carry. Rodgers gets helicoptered as he worms his was upfield for the first down. DeMarcus Ware, in coverage, bats down a Rodgers pass on first down. A throw to the right flat nets three. On third and 7, Rodgers' pass flies over Brandon Jackson on a screen. But on the punt, Green Bay gets their best bounce of the night; Dallas will get the ball at the 4.

Of course, Romo flicks a ball to Owens that rectifies the field position problem: Dallas will be at the 40. Then, a snuffed-out run, and two incomplete passes, and Green Bay's punt return team sees the field for the first time. Williams get the ball to the Green Bay 26.

Rodgers calls the "Far Luuh" play and loses one as his line goes left while he goes right. A short out to Greg Jennings, a pretty stop-start move, a few good blocks, and Jennings gets the Packers into field goal range. Another pass to Jennings gets nine. Grant works his way for a first down. Rodgers squirms out of a collapsing pocket, and Ware collapses on him after a gain of one. A screen to Grant is stoppered quickly, but the offsides call may explain that. Green Bay will have second and 4 after the two-minute warning. Grant keeps his legs moving and gets a first down at the 10. Rodgers is pressured and throws into a lineman's back, which will back up the Packers to the 15. A underneath throw to Driver yields three. Rodgers throws to Jennings, who weaves back towards the center of the field and dives in for a score. The score, post-PAT, is 27-17, Dallas. is reporting that Favre's injury is to his right elbow. Dallas' return is only to the 25, and they'll take a knee to end the half.

Our score is Dallas 27, Green Bay 17.

Halftime review: Owens already has six catches for 147 yards and a score, and the Packers have shown no ability to cover him; Grant has 90 yards on the ground and has been effective at gashing up the middle; Rodgers, minus one overthrow and the pass into a lineman's back, has been excellent in relief; Favre's poor showing is a product of both him forcing throws and excellent pressure while he was in; Romo has made nearly every throw necessary and has had plenty of time to locate receivers and loft the ball to the right spot.

We begin the second half with a holding penalty on the Packers that gets Romo and Co. to near midfield. It seems likely Favre, just shown in the tunnel with his arm still wrapped, will not return. A Julius Jones run gets another first down, but an overthrow, a failed run and a false start set Dallas back to a third and 17. The pass to Witten gets Dallas a fourth and (not really) 2, but they're stuffed on the dive by Jones. Green Bay will have the ball.

Green Bay is spreading the ball around and moving the ball effectively; Rodgers scrambled, then found Donald Lee open downfield at the 21. A Grant run brings them to the 20; another pass to Lee will get the Packers to the 15. Third and five, and Rodgers goes down under duress, but there's a five-yard facemask that will give Green Bay first and 10 from inches outside the 10. Driver catches one and digs under two Cowboys to the 3. Second down, Rodgers rolls right, completes to Kuhn, and a Dallas linebacker prevents him from getting six points. Still, it's first and goal from within the 1, and Grant plunges across the line to score the touchdown. The margin is three: Dallas 27, Green Bay 24.

Romo tried to juke Aaron Kampman on the first down; it didn't work, but Romo got the ball away, only to lose a couple. Then, Kampman steams in on second down and forces a screen pass out too soon, and Dallas has third and 14. Texas Stadium is obnoxiously loud thanks to thousands of Packer Nation citizens, and a false start is the result. It's third and 19 from the 11, but while Romo is flushed from the pocket, Crayton runs into a chasm between Green Bay defenders and catches and runs for a sizable gain. Romo overthrows a double-covered receiver on first and 10, but Barber turns the corner on second down and gets eight, plus the 15 from Bigby's facemask penalty. Romo lofts a perfect ball to Owens, which gets called a catch, but replay reveals some bobbling; Mike McCarthy will challenge. And it's overturned; from the 30, with the crowd quite loud, Romo hits Owens on a crossing route, and he stutters his way to third and 1, taking on Harris and winning. Barber gets the call on the third down, and he slashes into the secondary, all the way to the Packer 5. Another whistle before the snap, but Dallas is picking a different poison, and this one will be a delay of game, taking the 'Boys back to the 10.

Time runs out in the third quarter, and Green Bay has cut the Dallas lead to 3. It's Dallas 27, Green Bay 24.

Barber runs right, swipes at Ryan Pickett, and gains just three. Romo slings one into Owens' chest, in the end zone, and he alligator arms it into the waiting hands of Al Harris. Incredibly, it will be Green Bay ball, six points evanescing into a turnover.

Rodgers hits Jennings for 15, and on the next first down throws a wobbler that skips off a hand to snap a string of 11 straight completions. On third and 10, DeMarcus Ware then abuses Chad Clifton and records a sack that forces a Green Bay punt, fair caught by Crayton at the 24.
America's Team opens with a pass to Witten for 12, then another for 11 more, but holding erases the latter. Jones to the right finds no room. Romo, under pressure, nails Witten over the middle to make it third and 8. From the shotgun, with four wide, Romo hits Witten for the fourth straight pass play; Witten's been uncoverable, as the Packers have linebacker A.J. Hawk on him. A bomb to Terry Glenn falls incomplete, but Tramon Williams, on in place of Jarrett Bush, gets called for interference, and Dallas will be within the 10. First down is a low pass that reaches no one in the end zone; second is the obligatory Marion Barber run that gets two. Third down is the dagger, a zig route to Crayton, who boxes out Harris for his second score of the night. In a blink, it's 34-24, Cowboys.

Koren Robinson returns the kick to the 25. Aaron Rodgers begins his first-ever fourth quarter comeback attempt with a short completion to Driver, then wheels around end for 10 on second down. Driver catches a first down ball and smartly stretches out his arm for an extra five feet at the end of the play. Deep ball for Jennings is just too long on first, but second down is a quick out to Robinson, who jets for nine. Third down is a run for Ryan Grant, who motors against Cowboys, plural, and doesn't quite reach the marker. Crosby trots on for a 50-yarder, which clears the bar with room to spare. It's a one-possession game at 34-27.

Jason Garrett's endgame apparently involves doses of Marion Barber. He runs left for four, but Garrett spikes the punch with a throw to Witten for a first down. Then, another Barber run ends with an Atari Bigby facemask. Time is draining swiftly for the Packers; Barber stays in bounds on a five-yard off-tackle run, and the clock gets to 2:57, as Green Bay calls timeout. Barber bounces back and forth for four yards and a first down. As we reach the two-minute warning, Dallas has second and 8 from the 15, and Favre is walking back into the locker room, arm free of wrap. (To answer my earlier question, yeah, we are seeing the same commercials, and no, they're not getting any better.) Barber runs right for four yards and goes down in bounds; Green Bay takes their final timeout with 1:51 left. Third and three: Barber gets it again, and will not get the first down. Folk jogs on for the potentially icing field goal; it will be taken after the Cowboys' timeout. He drills it from 25, and it's Dallas 37, Green Bay 27.

Tramon Williams gets earholed on the return, which ends before the 20. Rodgers throws to Driver for 15, then Jennings for 9. After a spike, the third down pass misses a slipping Ruvell Martin, and it's fourth and 1 for the game; it's incomplete to Brandon Jackson, and the Cowboys will be able to spike it and end this game.

Your final: Dallas 37, Green Bay 27.

Post-game thoughts:

Jason Witten is practically uncoverable and should be considered the best tight end in the NFL; it's a wonder Dallas doesn't use him more near the end zone, especially with Terrell Owens still leading the league in drops. Tony Romo continues to mature as a quarterback, and didn't make a bad throw all night; don't be fooled by his interception, the ultimate hard-luck pick, on an inexplicable drop by Owens, who consistently found holes in zone coverage, but had two drops, including the one described above, and a bobble on what would have been a first-down catch. Terry Glenn and Patrick Crayton were minimally used, but Glenn drew two interference calls and Crayton caught two TDs; also, they spread a thin Packer secondary and created mismatches underneath for Witten.

The duo of Julius Jones and Marion Barber were less effective than usual against a fairly stout run defense, but Barber, as usual, was able to impose his will on a defense late in a game, grinding out tough yards that kept the chains moving. The Dallas defense yielded 94 yards and 2 TDs to Ryan Grant, but the pass rush kept both Favre and Rodgers off balance and the secondary prevented everything deep and only allowed one big play, Jennings' excellent effort after the catch. DeMarcus Ware stepped up late and the defense made timely stops.

Brett Favre was ineffective early as the Packers tried to bomb out the Cowboys; pundits will say his picks were a return to former risk-taking, but while the first was an ill-advised back-foot throw, the second was just a batted ball that the defense made a remarkable play to intercept. Further, the gunslinger mentality resurfaced for short stretches, as on the showy flea-flicker that landed incomplete; it was through and through a bad read, as Favre had Greg Jennings wide open with nothing but green ahead of him. Had Favre been dinking and dunking as Rodgers proceeded to do in his absence, his numbers would have been much better, but the Packers strayed from their bread-and-butter spread offense and failed to connect early, leaving them in a hole early.

Rodgers acquitted himself admirably in his first extended non-mop-up action; though he was unable to complete much deeper than 20 yards, he was composed and had enough arm to make the throws necessary. He fits well in the spread system Green Bay uses, and makes accurate throws underneath, letting receivers chip away with yardage after the catch, as on the drive when he got his first career NFL touchdown.

Grant was very effective, including a romp that was the longest run for the Packers this year, and John Kuch's blocking, as well as a close-to-excellent offensive line, gives Green Bay a two-dimensional offense that makes this team much more dangerous than they were a month ago. However, the defense, without Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, was less effective against the run on the edges and almost incapable of pass rush, and, without Charles Woodson, was incapable of stopping Tony Romo and Dallas' aerial assault.

The game itself wasn't short on drama, though Dallas never trailed after taking the lead midway through the first quarter and the soporific Bryant Gumbel did everything in his power to suck all the joy from the field; intensity was high throughout, and both teams' fan bases, especially the Packers' large contingent, which helped forced multiple penalties on Dallas' young offense, kept Texas Stadium cacophonous.

The Cowboys are now definitively the best team in the NFC, but the Packers are clearly second, even nicked up, and the gap isn't very wide; if this isn't the NFC Championship come January, I will be genuinely surprised.