GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys both came into the season with Super Bowl expectations, and things didn't go according to plan for either team early on.
That's where the similarity ends.
The Packers have rebounded from a disappointing start to rescue their playoff hopes. The Cowboys started poorly and it's getting worse.
Going into Sunday night's game at Lambeau Field, the Packers (5-3) are on guard just in case this is the week the Cowboys start playing up to their potential.
"We can't worry about what their record is," Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings said. "Especially a talented team like that, because they can flip that switch and get it turned around as easily as this week. We don't want that to be us."
Dallas (1-6) came into the season with hopes of home-field advantage in the Super Bowl. Now they're an unlikely contender for the No. 1 pick in the draft.
"It's like a bad dream here," tight end Jason Witten said. "You can't get out of it."
The Cowboys have lost four straight since winning at Houston.
"It just seems like it snowballed on us from there," Witten said. "It's tough to overcome. It's three, four plays here or there in each game. Obviously, it's not what we expected but I don't think there's anybody that's going to quit."
Dallas' first five losses were all by a touchdown or less, but they're coming off a 35-17 loss to Jacksonville. Cowboys coach Wade Phillips is stressing fundamentals and scratching his head.
"It's perplexing in some ways but it's still football," Phillips said. "We've had opportunities to win most of our games. We've got to get better."
And do it without Tony Romo, who is out with a broken collarbone.
Veteran backup Jon Kitna threw for 379 yards in the loss to Jacksonville. He had four interceptions, but three were off of deflections.
"Tony always has that ability to create when there's nothing there," Witten said. "I think he has that 'Wow' factor that we know he can bail us out at times, whereas Jon is more systematic throughout the process of, 'Here's what I'm thinking,' communication's clear and we all have the game plan. He's a 14-year veteran. I think he understands the challenges. We had a good game plan and I thought he played well last week. We just weren't able to execute — a lot of tipped balls that ended up as interceptions."
Meanwhile, the Packers are beginning to look like a case study in the right way to deal with adversity. Green Bay has 10 players on injured reserve, including five starters. Several other key players are sitting out with injuries.
But after a 3-3 start, Green Bay beat Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings, then followed it up with a defense-driven road victory over the New York Jets.
"It says something about our leadership, it says something about the guys in this locker room," left guard Daryn Colledge said. "Nobody was comfortable with where we were at. And I don't think anybody's real comfortable with where we're at right now. But I think everybody believes in the guys in this locker room and believes that we have more to give."
The Packers were expected to win with a high-powered offense this season. Instead they're led by a defense which is keeping Green Bay in games despite injuries.
"I will give them credit in that it seems like one guy goes down and another guy just steps in and plays really well for them," Witten said. "They're a confident group and you have to be on top of it to pick it up because they bring a lot of different looks."
The offense's struggles are particularly evident on third down, an area where Aaron Rodgers and the Packers excelled last season. This year they're moving the ball effectively, only to watch drives stall.
"We're making enough plays to win games," Rodgers said. "But there's been a standard that's been set here with the kind of points we scored last season, the kind of production we put up."Comment on this story
Now the Packers will have to make due without wide receiver Donald Driver, who is out this week because of a quadriceps injury. At this point, managing injuries is becoming a way of life in Green Bay.
"I think it says a lot about the character of our football team," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's the type of people that we have, and frankly we're just getting started. We won two games. We feel good about it. We're fighting through a rough spot as a team, and it's important for us to come out of this thing 6-3 and get to the bye."
In Dallas, Phillips is facing renewed speculation about his future but says he is not worried about losing the locker room.
"We have a real sound group, a real quality group," Phillips said. "We wouldn't have won the most games in the NFC the last three seasons if we didn't have those kind of people. I really believe those guys will keep fighting and they'll try to get better and try to win games."