A storied rivalry rich with history or not, Sunday’s game at AT&T Stadium is about the here and now. Earlier this season, when preparing for New England, Dak Prescott was asked about the fact that the Cowboys hadn’t beaten New England since 1987 and if that week’s game was in any way about, at long last, slaying the dragon.
Cowboys haven’t beat the Patriots since 1996. Last win at New England: 1987
Does Dak know how long it’s been?
“No, I don’t pay attention to that or honestly care about it. I know we’ve got to play them this Sunday and a win is the only thing on my mind.” https://t.co/WvDb8e52qm
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 16, 2021
Fans and media who look for ways in which they can contextualize outcomes from week to week are the ones for whom such things matter, not players. Dak didn’t care that Dallas hadn’t beaten the Patriots on the road since the 80s. Why would he? He was born six years after the fact.
While the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers may hold between them a whopping 10 Super Bowl trophies and 15 NFC crowns, none of those legends of the past will be taking the field come kickoff Sunday. The Cowboys haven’t played in an NFC Championship game in a quarter century; the name on the opposing team’s laundry is irrelevant. All that matters is that the Cowboys, who have tantalized us throughout the season with flashes of dominance, find a way to protect home field and handle their business as they try to build on last Sunday’s 51-26 blowout in Philadelphia.
San Francisco might be a more favorable matchup to some in Cowboys Nation, but they are by no means “an easy W.” The NFC is stout from top to bottom and the 49ers have a physical front, behind which they’ll look to control the game. If they can run the ball and limit Dallas’s possessions, they could pose a real threat.
Jimmy Garoppolo is not Joe Montana or Steve Young. Rather than beat you by pushing the ball down the field relentlessly, Garoppolo instead prioritizes the short to middle ground, allowing his highly-talented receivers, Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle, to carve up defenses with their yards after catch. In truth, Garoppolo will give you a couple of opportunities in a given game to make a big play. Over his last six contests, he threw six interceptions, was sacked 11 times, and fumbled on three of those. He did this while throwing seven touchdown passes.
Seven touchdowns in six games while committing nine turnovers and being sacked about a dozen times isn’t exactly big-time quarterbacking reminiscent of the 49er greats. Still, San Francisco shouldn’t be taken lightly. That defense is legit and their skill position players are dynamic, but the fact that they play for the 49ers or that Dallas has a storied postseason history against San Francisco is irrelevant.
Is this to say the players are unaware of the history between these two teams? Of course not. You could perhaps inspire the players by bringing some of those Hall of Famers in to talk to the team. Head coach Mike McCarthy has certainly shown a deep appreciation and affinity for the history of the game, most notably stopping mid-sentence during a press conference in awe as Captain America himself, Roger Staubach, walked by. But is that really something you do for a game on Wild Card Weekend? Does this crop of players, most of whom weren’t even born when these times last clashed in a meaningful game, need extra motivation to go out and keep their Super Bowl dream alive?
It doesn’t matter for the players in the locker room if Dallas and San Francisco haven’t met up for a postseason game since 1994–that’s for us, the fans.
What matters is that Dallas shows up and is ready to play. That the offense starts fast and the defense is allowed to pin its ears back and attack as a run-heavy opponent is forced to rely more on its passing game. And most importantly, that Dallas handles its business and clears the first of four hurdles to number 6.