GREEN BAY, Erase. — Before kick-off, Mike McCarthy celebrated his return to Lambeau Field with hugs, laughter and back clapping. The Dallas Cowboys head coach and his former quarterback Aaron Rodgers got together in midfield and shared another exchange just as the warmups ended.
Then followed more than 60 minutes of football, an overtime showdown with drama to depict the return of colleagues who had once won a Super Bowl. But at the end of the night, Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers had the last laugh.
The Cowboys failed in a fourth overtime attempt before Packers kicker Mason Crosby scored a 28-yard field goal to win the game 31-28 and break Green Bay’s five-game losing streak.
Dallas had been building leads with periodic flashes, their defense and special teams forcing takeaways, while wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and back Tony Pollard had the best performances of the season.
But in the end, two early errors, the return of Rodgers’ deep ball and a leaky defense gave the Packers the winning advantage.
The Cowboys struck first, with quarterback Dak Prescott finding Lamb in the left flat to cap off a methodical 17-play, 83-yard touchdown drive.
An opportunity to pile up immediately followed, with Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence strip-sacking Rodgers and safety Jayron Kearse recovering to set up Dallas in the red zone. Instead, Prescott missed Lamb in the middle of the end zone and Packer’s safety Rudy Ford intercepted the pass and gave it back 34 yards. Four games later, Rodgers sailed a 58-yard arc into the hands of Watson. The connection marked Rodgers’ longest completion of the season and Watson’s first score of his career.
Then came the second big mistake between Prescott and Lamb, the over-the-middle connection for which they have completely lost service lately.
Again, Ford caught a target intended for Lamb – it didn’t even get Lamb’s attention at first. Again, Ford returned the gift 34 yards. And running back Aaron Jones scored the go-ahead touchdown to make it 14-7, complete with a grab your reproductive organ celebration.
But the Cowboys held out, Prescott and his teammates quickly ran their two-minute drill to tie the game before halftime and start a run of 21 unanswered runs.
The Dallas special teams forced and recovered a point-return fumble, Tony Pollard dodged more tacklers along a 13-yard path to the end zone, and Prescott and Lamb regained synchronicity en route to a 31-yard touchdown.
But Rodgers — as Cowboys fans love to do — found Watson twice in the fourth quarter for the rookie’s second and third touchdowns on the day to even the game.
The Cowboys failed to score in the fourth quarter or overtime as the Packers snatched 17 unanswered runs. Dallas went for it in fourth and third of the Green Bay 35, but the Packers’ pass rush forced an incompleteness. The game before, Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander Lamb appeared to hit early on what would have been a first-down reception, but no flag was thrown.
Rodgers completed 14-of-20 attempts for 224 yards and three touchdowns in the win. Jones and fellow running back AJ Dillon combined for 203 yards and a score at opportune times. Watson’s 107 yards and three touchdowns were the first rookie three-TD appearance against the Cowboys since Randy Moss in 1998, according to NFL Research.
Prescott finished 27-of-45 for 265 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, receiver CeeDee Lamb posted a season-best 150 yards and two scores. Pollard, in a career-high 22 touches, won 115 yards and a score.
But the Cowboys’ production wasn’t enough, as it often wasn’t against Rodgers.
Dallas falls to third in the NFC East and will travel to Minnesota next week to complete its NFC North slate.
Follow Jori Epstein of Yahoo Sports on Twitter @JoriEpstein