FRISCO, TX — Batten down the hatches folks, because it's time to find out which team is truly the best in the NFC heading into the second quarter of the 2023 NFL season. On one hand, you have the undefeated San Francisco 49ers, who have also eliminated the Dallas Cowboys from the playoffs the past two postseasons, but this year's version of the latter has three blowout victories in four tries; and own the league's best defense.
It's the clash of arguably the two best teams in the conference, who are also eerily similar to each other in a lot of ways on both sides of the ball.
There is also never any shortage of disdain when these two organizations square off — a rivalry that goes back decades and includes the legendary clashes of the early and mid-1990s — re-energized in recent seasons in a big way.
As the Cowboys try to strike this year's first blow against their current Boogeyman, much like they did against Tom Brady in January and to Bill Belichick last weekend, everyone in the building is champing at the bit to get to work for the trip to Santa Clara.
- Mike McCarthy, HC: "It's an important game. You understand the history. There's obviously a lot of tradition with this game, and that's a part of it. You live to play in these kinds of games. You dream about it. You don't want to make it bigger than it is, but the reality is it's not just another game. The important thing is for us to learn [from Week 4] and take things we can improve on. Watching [the 49ers] tape and getting into it, and they're playing well. I'm impressed from what I've seen. We're just keeping our eye on the target."
- Dak Prescott, QB: "Now it's about turning the page and studying the hell out of these [49ers] — understanding who they've been and what this matchup has been the past couple of years. I've played them in the playoffs and we understand it's a team that if we get to where we want to get, we have to play them again, come playoffs. I look forward to the matchup and turning the page … and coming up with a great gameplan."
- Tony Pollard, RB: "We're always ready. It doesn't matter who we have coming up next week. Anybody they put up against us, we'll be ready. … We definitely have a bad taste in our mouth from the two times we played them. But it's a new year, we'll start from scratch and we're ready to go. That's every week for us. Every week that's how we look at it."
- Dan Quinn, DC: "The formula for San Francisco, you see the effectiveness of their starts, not just in the run game but also scoring and finishing. Certainly, [Christian McCaffrey] has been at the top of that list, for sure. We'll have our work cut out for us … but it's gonna be a lot of fun."
- DeMarcus Lawrence, DE: "Is that who we play next week? OK, I'll turn to San Francisco on Tuesday. This is just another step in our road that we're going to have to travel. It's still the regular season. It's still early so it's all about just getting that win, bottom line."
- Leighton Vander Esch, LB: "That's one I've definitely had my eye on, and everybody has, but we can't let our emotions get to us. We have to go out there and play the game of football like we know how to, and bring that style we usually play with. It's gotta be another great week of preparation."
Should the Cowboys accomplish their mission in Week 5, they'll strike a mighty blow to both the high-flying 49ers and to the detractors of Dallas who are looking at this coming back-alley brawl as the first real litmus test for what the Cowboys might be this season.
They'll sail to California starved to seize everything, but they'll find the village they're invading this week is heavily fortified and defended extremely well, making for what might be the game of the year so far.
Is it Sunday yet?