Something has to give: Packers unbeaten at home; Cowboys 8-0 on road
GREEN BAY, Wis. — It was one of the first things about the Cowboys that jumped off the page to Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. A team that won all eight of its games outside of Dallas during the regular season would be coming to Lambeau Field for a divisional-round matchup.
It’s not that Green Bay was intimidated by it. After all, the Packers were undefeated at home. But it sets the stage for the first time in NFL history that an 8-0 road team will play at an 8-0 home team in the playoffs.
"That’s a tremendous feat," left guard Josh Sitton said of the Cowboys’ away record. "Your goal every year, our goal anyway, is win your home games and win half the road games. So to go and be 8-0 on the road shows the toughness of their team. It takes mental toughness to win on the road. It definitely catches your eye."
It happened twice a long time ago, first in 1948 and then in 1972, that an undefeated road team played at an undefeated home team in the postseason. But that was before the NFL switched to a 16-game schedule.
While some point to the opponents that Dallas beat away from AT&T Stadium, such as Tennessee, Jacksonville and Washington, the Cowboys were also the only team to beat the Seahawks in Seattle all season.
"You have to really respect what they’ve done on the road," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "We all know how tough it is to win any game, let alone one on the road. I think they’ve shown the character that those guys have over there. They’ve always had a lot of talent, but now they’re finding a way to really put it all together and they have those kind of guys that can find a way to win.
"In the NFL, you’ve got to find a way to win. Sometimes, it’s going to be ugly. Sometimes, you have to come from behind. They’ve done it all. They’ve won every way you can.
"When you can do that on the road, I think it kind of breeds confidence throughout the team. I’m sure they’re feeling good about what they’ve done."
Dallas’ offense was aided by how well quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray performed in those games. Romo’s passer rating of 121.8 on the road was the best in the league and was better than his own 103.8 passer rating at home. Romo also had a higher completion percentage outside of Dallas, more passing yards and 20 touchdowns with just two interceptions.
"I don’t know that we really get affected by where we’re playing or who we’re going against and that sort of thing," Romo said in a conference call this week. "For us, it’s just been about improving ourselves and getting better and just looking at the big picture and figuring out how to improve and continuing to get better. If you just put your head down and go to work, you just have a good chance to be the best version of yourselves."
Murray’s numbers weren’t drastically better on the road like Romo’s were, but the league’s leading rusher was given the ball more when the Cowboys weren’t at home.
"The way that they run the ball, you travel better, because that’s a good place to start," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.
Perhaps Dallas’ offense is just structured in a way that thrives on the road.
"I think we have a team that’s built for it," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "We’ve developed a physical team here over the last few years. I think we’ve done a good job as an organization drafting those kind of players. I also think we have a mentally tough team. I think we’ve done a good job as an organization drafting those kind of players, and hopefully we’ve done a good job as a coaching staff instilling that in our team.
"I really do believe that the idea of — what I say to our guys all the time, home, away, parking lot or moon, you just go play. I think that’s really an important concept. The best players, the best teams I’ve been around have had that ability and that capability."
On the flip side, Dallas has to find a way to stop a Packers offense that was nearly unstoppable at Lambeau Field this season. Green Bay averaged an NFL-best 39.8 points per game at home and had a league-leading margin of victory of 19.4.
"They’ve won some very quality games on the road (and) we’re very good at home," wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. "It’s just going to make for a good matchup."
Aaron Rodgers was significantly better at home this season than he was on the road. At Lambeau Field, Rodgers threw 25 touchdowns and no interceptions, giving him an NFL-best home passer rating of 133.2.
Rodgers didn’t take much of the credit for himself, though.
"I think it’s a better mindset, for one," Rodgers said this week of the Packers’ home success. "The stadium renovations definitely help. The extra noise generation that we have has been great. I think the surface has been advantageous for us. Then the elements definitely help.
"You put all those together, and the fast start we’ve been having, as well. Really been doing well on our first possessions of games and scoring a lot of points in the first half. All those things kind of combined has given us some success this year.
"We’ve had seasons where we’ve been undefeated at home, but we haven’t had this much of an advantage with the crowd and the elements and the footing that we’ve had this season."
Something has got to give Sunday. One team is going to have its impressive streak broken.
"It’s hard enough to (win) when you’re at home, but it’s double-tough when you’re on the road," Capers said. "That speaks volumes about what kind of team they have."
Follow Paul Imig on Twitter