Then they got smart, and gave the ball to running back Dorsey Levens.
What Levens left in his wake was a Packers' single-game rushing record, a revised NFC Central race and a Dallas defense in tatters.
After seven straight defeats in Dallas, the Packers throttled the Cowboys, 45-17, yesterday to gain some peace of mind.
"It feels about like I thought it would," Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre said. "It's great to finally beat these guys. It's a shame it took so long."
When the Packers finally got the Cowboys on the famous tundra, they didn't just wipe that awful slate clean, they shattered it. They didn't just beat the Cowboys, they humiliated them.
But inexplicably, it took the whole first half for the Packers to remember why they wanted to get the Cowboys in Lambeau.
Playing in 22-degree temperatures, 18 mph winds and a minus-4 wind chill, the Packers called 21 passes in the first half and only 11 running plays. Either the cold or the 10-10 tie jolted them out of their lethargy, though, and in the second half there were 14 passes balanced against 30 runs.
When the carnage was over, Levens, a fourth-year veteran from Georgia Tech, had 190 rushing yards to break a 36-year-old Packer record of 186, set by Jim Taylor against the New York Giants.
Levens had just nine carries for 45 yards in the first half; in the second he rushed 24 times for 145 yards and a touchdown. The running game clicked so well that Favre, who threw for 203 yards and four touchdowns, said he even audibled twice to Levens' runs.
"I don't know if our plan was to get him 190 yards," Favre said, "but when he's running it the way he was running it, you keep doing it. He made it easy on me. Our offensive line just dominated."
The Packers (9-3) took out four years of frustration against the Cowboys in 30 minutes of smash-mouth football. They scored touchdowns on each of their four second-half possessions -- on drives of 69, 73, 61 and 88 yards -- to break the 10-10 tie. Then they got a defensive touchdown for good measure when Darren Sharper rambled 34 yards with a Dallas fumble in the final two minutes.
Coupled with losses by Minnesota and Tampa Bay, the 35-point second-half outburst put the Packers in first place in the Central Division. It also saddled Dallas (6-6) with its worst loss since a 38-6 playoff defeat against Detroit in 1991.
"If anyone had told me someone would rush for 100 yards today, I would have told them they are absolutely absurd," said Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders, whose 50-yard touchdown return on a second-quarter interception gave Dallas a brief 10-7 lead.
Running the ball was the only way to go against the Cowboys' quick, but undersized defense on this day.
"You've got to be able to run the ball against that team," said Packers linebacker Seth Joyner. "That's their weakness. When you can run the ball straight at them, you've got a better chance of beating them."
When a team converts 13 of 17 third downs, it enhances the chance for success even more. Once the Packers went to the run in the second half, they were a shocking 9-for-9 on third-down conversions. Perhaps the biggest was a third-and-seven touchdown throw to Antonio Freeman for 23 yards to open a 31-17 lead in the fourth quarter. Safety Darren Woodson had spun Freeman completely around before the Baltimore native made the catch.
"We didn't adjust, we just made plays [in the second half]," Favre said. "Our third-own conversions were as good as we've ever had."
As a reward for their overwhelming victory, the Packers now must go on the road the next three weeks to face Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Carolina. Like last week, they'll be reminded that they haven't beaten the Vikings in the Metrodome during coach Mike Holmgren's five trips there.
"I'll talk about that tomorrow," Holmgren said, relieved to end his 0-for-7 against Dallas. "Tonight I'm going to be very emotional. I have exorcised one demon. Next week I'll have another."
Pub Date: 11/24/97