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3 & Out: The Story Of Two Tough-Minded Teams


FRISCO, Texas – Three topics this week as the Cowboys count down to their highly-anticipated rematch with the Seattle Seahawks:

  • Two teams who defied the percentages
  • The big key Saturday night
  • Two winners facing off at QB

Away we go:

I Know…

this Cowboys team is young, but they've grown up fast with the type of pressure they've faced. (Seattle has, too.)

You can make the argument that Saturday's wild-card matchup at AT&T Stadium features the two most playoff-prepared teams in the NFC field. Here's why:

I went through all 32 teams' schedules, and of the six NFC teams left standing, the Seahawks have played the most games (seven) decided by three points or less. The Cowboys are right behind them with six, including two overtime thrillers – the second-most in the league behind Cleveland (four).

We know the Cowboys have been clawing back to contention since early November. They'd never made the postseason after starting 3-5.

But the Seahawks arguably dug themselves a deeper hole in September.

According to, only 12.1 percent of 0-2 teams have made the playoffs since the field expanded to 12 teams in 1990. Seattle bucked that trend, and they did it by regaining their identity in Week 3 against Dallas.

In their first two losses to the Broncos and Bears, they ran the ball only 38 combined times. Over the last 14 games they've averaged 35.4 carries and finished the regular season with 534, second only to Baltimore.

Both teams have changed in the last four months. Seattle is more run-focused than ever and the Cowboys' passing game is more explosive and efficient with wide receiver Amari Cooper.

Both teams are similar in this regard: They beat the odds to get here.

I Think…

this game could hinge on which team prevents the big play better.

When two teams appear this evenly matched, the matchup often boils down to one or two key moments. In Week 3 the Dallas defense did a solid job against running back Chris Carson, who needed 32 carries to reach 102 yards and didn't have a run longer than 13 yards. But just before halftime, wide receiver Tyler Lockett squeezed through zone coverage for a 52-yard touchdown catch that gave Seattle a two-score lead it never relinquished.

On the flip side, Ezekiel Elliott blamed himself for the Week 3 loss – specifically for stepping out of bounds before a would-be 31-yard touchdown catch and run.

"That's on me," he said after the game. "I've got to have better awareness of the sideline."

The loss, of course, wasn't all on Elliott. As a unit, the Cowboys' offense simply couldn't keep drives going. They converted only 3 of 13 third downs.

Since the first meeting, Dallas has added a significant big-play option with Cooper – and he and Dak Prescott just missed on two big completions last Sunday against the Giants. It's a challenge for Seattle – but the Cowboys also know how difficult it is containing quarterback Russell Wilson for 60 minutes.

"Focus on the details, not the event," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said this week.

I Have No Idea…

why win/loss records are attached only to quarterbacks, but rarely do teams win playoff games without outstanding play from the most important position on the field.

That's what makes the Prescott/Wilson duel so intriguing. Check this out: Wilson, a seven-year veteran, has won more games (36) than player through his first three NFL seasons. Prescott is tied for fifth all-time with 32 victories. As wide receiver Cole Beasley said last Sunday after their epic 32-yard touchdown to beat the Giants, "He's a warrior for us and that's what he does – he wins ballgames."

Two years ago in the divisional round, the Cowboys fell behind big early to the Packers – perhaps a product of bye-week rust. But I don't think Prescott got enough credit for trading touchdowns with the great Aaron Rodgers and tying the game with under a minute left.

That playoff experience should serve him well. And, while it was a calculated risk playing him the entire Giants game, he got out of there healthy … and perhaps with even more confidence after a career-high four-touchdown effort.