IRVING, Texas – Players in every sport get motivated differently. Some put their headphones in and don't speak before games, while others prefer to stay casual. In the same fashion, some get driven by losses and failures, while others choose to forget about them.
The case is no different for the Cowboys, who find themselves in a similar situation as last year, when they lost to the Giants in the season finale with a playoff berth at stake.
For Jason Hatcher, who pretended like he forgot entirely what happened at the end of last season, this Sunday's game is all that matters. That opinion seemed to spread throughout the defensive line, with Marcus Spears adopting a similar attitude regarding the past.
"For us to be like, 'Oh, we've been in this situation before and we need to use that to whatever advantage it may be or motivation,' it's irrelevant because you've got to play this game," Spears said. "You have to play it, regardless of what you're taking into it. You've got to play it, and our main motivation is that we want to win, nothing else. We're not worried about trying to correct the wrong from last year. We want to win this one ballgame and give ourselves a shot."
Spears said the veterans can learn from last year's circumstances, but they don't need to be motivated by a negative. He said if they go out and win this weekend, nobody will remember what happened a year ago.
He points to the Cowboys' 3-1 record this month as an example of moving beyond past observations.
"The perception before this month was that we couldn't win in December," Spears said. "It changes from week to week, year to year. It's not any recall. The only time you can write that is if it happens."
He said there's no point in dwelling on the past, and pointed out that four weeks ago everyone picked the Giants to win the division.
That's not to say he's forgotten the feeling of losing, 31-14, in Week 17 last year, but as he points out, that score is made even more irrelevant by the fact that many of the players suiting up this weekend for the Cowboys weren't around last year, including starting cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr.
"You don't want to go through it again," Spears said. "When something bad happens, you don't want to go through it again. But I think the way I took the question was, what do we use going into this game? We use this year, how we approach every game this year because I think if you do go back to that, you increase the pressure."
Fellow defender DeMarcus Ware takes a different approach when thinking back to last year.
"This right here is one of those type of games where you learn from last season to get you to where you are right now," Ware said. "Last season, we weren't able to pull it out, but we had that opportunity. Now, guess what, usually they say that lightning doesn't strike twice, but it has, and we have an opportunity to be exactly where we need to be."
Jason Witten adopted the same mindset as Ware, hoping the experiences from the past few seasons can prepare the Cowboys for a similar situation this year. He said it wasn't easy to watch the Giants take their playoff spot all the way to a championship.
"In life, you're molded by your experiences," Witten said. "A core group of guys have been through those experiences, and you watch a team grab that opportunity and run with it and go win a Super Bowl. It doesn't make it any easier. It's going to be a tough challenge … but hopefully those past experiences allowed you to kind of embrace these moments so this stage isn't too big."