On Your Mark, Get Set For Playoffs

FRISCO, Texas – Let’s go.

That’s what it is, isn’t it? The playoffs. A word the Cowboys couldn’t even spell around this time last year if you’d spotted them the P, L, and A, the word non-existent at the time in their 2020 6-10 vocabulary.

What a difference a year makes.

Here are the Cowboys, 12-5, now the No. 3 seed in the NFC thanks to the demolition of Team JV Philadelphia, 51-26, on Saturday in what was a tune-up game for the Champions. of the NFC East. But also to the San Francisco 49ers, impressively whipping the NFC West champion Rams 27-24 in overtime to win the second wild card entry at 10-7.

So it’s Cowboys-Niners, their eighth edition of the playoffs which begins at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at AT&T Stadium but for the first time since January 15, 1995. This 38-28 49ers victory at Candlestick Park 28 seasons ago in the NFC title game the Cowboys were denied the opportunity to make three peats in the Super Bowl. The Cowboys have faced just one more playoff opponent, the Rams nine times.

And while the Cowboys had beaten San Francisco in the previous two NFC Championship games, what about that? Today, January 10, 1982 is the 40th anniversary of “The Catch” Montana-to-Clark in the last minute of that NFC title game for the 28-27 victory over the Cowboys.

That everything was then; it is now. Their playoff history is steep but has nothing to do with this game. It’s 2022. The Cowboys having won five of the last six games of this 2021 season and the Niners having won four of the last five, including that thrilling final of the season, recovering from a 17-0 deficit to devastate the Rams, the former second seed just over a week ago, falling to fourth at 12-5, behind Green Bay (13-4) Tampa Bay (13-4) and the Cowboys.

But you know what? What a difference 1 minute, 24 seconds makes four months ago to the day Sunday. That’s all the time left for the 2021 NFL season opener, Tampa Bay and Tom Brady needed to erase a 29-28 Cowboys lead to win 31-29 on a field goal September 9. Otherwise the Cowboys could have been the second seed, and who knows, maybe the first, although the Packers probably wouldn’t have taken their foot off the gas this second half against Detroit on Sunday in removing Aaron Rodgers from the game if there was still anything going on, losing 37-30 with the Lions scoring the last 10 points in the final two minutes of the game.

So yeah, there we are, with the initial 17-game NFL season needing each of those final games and then the very last second of overtime of it to kick off Sunday night to sort out that playoff scene.

Welcome Dallas Cowboys back to the party. But not the end in any case.

“When that plane lands in Dallas, that’s the starting line,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said after the Cowboys claimed their 12th victory over an Eagles team that decided to sit all down. their defensive starters and most of their offensive starters for injury, COVID and to preserve the health reasons of the playoffs. “This is what we have been talking about since April, and we have always had goals that we have achieved.”

Have a winning season. Check, with the 12 wins being the second most in team history, only three seasons of a franchise-high 13 more.

Qualify for the playoffs. Check it out, this is the fourth time in the past eight seasons, this first round being called Super Wild Card Weekend.

Win the NFC Est. Check, not only by winning the division title for the fourth time in eight years, but by shutting out their opponents, finishing 6-0, only the second time in franchise history unbeaten in the division, the 8-0 of 1998 the only other time.

Or as McCarthy reiterated, “We take this as the starting line.”

Win one or two playoff games. Heaven forbid, like three, a Cowboys team’s last multiple playoff victories in the 1995 Super Bowl XXX championship season.

No offense to those who touted last year’s Washington team 7-9 as repeat NFC East champions or some who set excessive win limits for the Cowboys at nine, win the East for these Cowboys was the expectation.

And why not? Dak Prescott would be back in good health, ready to go. The offensive line gang would be reunited again. Ezekiel Elliott looked rejuvenated. CeeDee Lamb was no longer a rookie. Randy Gregory would be ready to leave at the start of the season. Trevon Diggs was no longer a beginner. And the Cowboys dedicated their first-round pick to the draft’s top defensive player, all-rounder Micah Parsons, who, who knows, might have turned out to be the draft’s best player.

So if new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn could remake last year’s worst defense, dropping a high of 473 points, in an average unit, well, these Cowboys had the makings of something big. Quinn did, and then some, the Cowboys finishing 14th in the NFL thanks to these 34 takeaways.

And here we are, now about to find out how big he is.

Yet the irony of this recuperative season becomes so many hold their breaths, satisfaction apparently only coming from winning a sixth Super Bowl title. I wonder how many 6-10 teams won a Super Bowl next season?

But hey, it’s the Cowboys, right? That’s what they’re supposed to do, their tough legacy, having once strung together those 20 straight winning seasons (1966-85) that included 18 playoff appearances, five Super Bowl appearances and winning two, two. NFL championship games and 13 conference championship games.

Then, after a slight lull from 1986 to 1990, the Cowboys regained the upper hand with six straight playoff seasons (1991-96) with those three Super Bowl titles and four straight appearances in NFC title games, reaffirming what appeared to be their inalienable right to compete. in the playoffs every year.

Since then, not so much. There have only been eight playoff appearances from 2000 to now, this 2021 season, with just a 3-7 playoff record, all three win wild card matches in the first round.

So let’s go, a first wild card, once again the third seed for the third time since the turn of the century. And these are the Niners, the sixth seed. If the Cowboys had lost to Philadelphia on Saturday, and it would have been nearly impossible since the Eagles waved the white flag even before the game started, or if the Rams had beaten San Francisco or Arizona had beaten Seattle, the Cowboys would have been the fourth seed, playing the fifth seed, which would have been either the Cards or the Rams.

But since neither of those teams was able to win their Game 17, it was the Cowboys-Niners, who first met in the playoffs three straight years from 1970 to 1972, the Cowboys won all three games – two of those NFC title matches – against their former assistant coach. Dick Nolan’s teams, Nolan eventually returning to the Cowboys for nine more seasons as an assistant (1982-90).

So be it, the Niners once again.

But hey it’s the playoffs. Like the neighbors, you cannot choose your opponent. You can’t play Texans. Cream puffs are not allowed. No matter the seed, a quality team awaits you.

And now, with that third seeded seed, it occurred to me: If the Cowboys win and neither of the wild-card teams win on the road, the third-seeded Cowboys will get the No. 3 Buccaneers. seeded second for the right to play in the NFC Title Game. Wouldn’t that be something?

A rematch of the NFL season opener, and remember what Prescott said to Brady as the two met after that scintillating game:

“We’ll see you again,” inferring in the playoffs. Would that be prophetic?

“You have to win to keep going and we plan to do that no matter who we play against or who we line up against,” Dak said after his outstanding performance on Saturday night in Philly. “Obviously we’re playing at home next week, but if we have to travel after that, it doesn’t matter.

“Line them up, we’re ready to go and we’re going to be looking forward to a good race. “

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