Cowboys and Packers meet in crunch time, minus some luster

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- When the NFL released the schedule in the spring, the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers in December had the makings of a star-powered matchup, with strong potential to impact the NFC playoff picture.
 
Still could, though it's lost a little luster.
 
The Cowboys (4-8) are still chasing a title in the mediocre NFC East even without injured quarterback Tony Romo. The Packers (8-4) needed a desperation touchdown pass to beat Detroit and avoid another week of consternation over an inconsistent offense.
 
Both sides say there is a lot more work to do.
 
"Everybody's playing for something. It's the playoff-style atmosphere and energy. So we've got to bring it," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
 
The Hail Mary pass lifted the Packers' spirits. But Green Bay realizes the improbable victory didn't solve its issues with the ball.
 
The Packer need more out of the running game. They need to get their offensive line healthy in order to keep Rodgers clean and upright. They need Rodgers and his receivers to play a consistent 60 minutes in the passing game.
 
"We've had a lot of injuries at our skill positions that have made it tough to get that consistency every week," Rodgers said. "We've got to build on some of the stuff we did in the second half last week, and be more consistent."
 
The loss of receiver Jordy Nelson in the preseason to a knee injury has challenged the Packers all year. Romo's collarbone injury has had an even bigger impact for the Cowboys.
 
It's just not quite the same with Matt Cassel under center in Dallas.
 
"It's always an adjustment, especially when you have a guy like Tony, but I think Matt's handled it well," tight end Jason Witten said. "Every week he gets more and more comfortable."
 
More comfy to the point where the last-place Cowboys won for the first time this season without Romo, beating the Washington Redskins 19-16.  Remarkably, Dallas is just one game behind the Redskins, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, who are all 5-7.
 
It may not be what the Cowboys "wanted as far as the wins and losses, but this is a league where that happens," Witten said. "No greater example than Green Bay's game the other night against Detroit. Just stay with it."
 
Other notes and things to watch ahead of Sunday's game:
 
COMPLETING THE CATCH: This will be the first meeting between the teams since the Packers' 26-21 win in the NFC divisional playoff round in January. Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant's 31-yard catch to the 1 on fourth down was overturned on review after officials ruled Bryant didn't maintain control all the way to ground.
 
The play has contributed to confusion among some players and fans about the rules that constitute what is and isn't a catch. But it's not something the Cowboys are talking about going into Sunday.
 
"I don't know that guys bring a lot of stuff with them from past games," coach Jason Garrett said.
 
LOOKING FOR LACY: Green Bay's Eddie Lacy missed curfew the night before the Lions game and was demoted to second string. The bullish running back appears to have made amends with coach Mike McCarthy and his teammates, and received regular work in practice at midweek. He's had success against the Cowboys, averaging 121 yards rushing and 20 carries in two career games.
 
REST UP: The Packers have a decided advantage in rest, with 10 days between this game and their previous contest against Detroit. Dallas has a short turnaround since beating the Redskins on the road on Monday night.
 
LINE `EM UP: Green Bay hopes the few extra days of rest following a Thursday night game helps its sore offensive line. All five starters have been dealing with injuries, and only left tackle David Bakhtiari was a full participant in practice at midweek. The front five must deal with a Dallas defense that had three sacks and blitzed more than usual last week.
 
IRON MAN: Witten has been productive against the Packers in his career with 33 catches for 408 yards and two touchdowns in six games. He's also on the verge of a franchise record, one game away from becoming the first Cowboy to play in 200 consecutive games.
 
"He has good body control. He knows how to lean into defenders, getting them to open their hips. He's just a very good possession receiver," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said.
 
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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP--NFL
 

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