FRISCO, Texas – One week ago was probably the worst day of the year for many Cowboys fans.
But this Monday might not be a lot better. Sure, it's been a week since the most promising season we've seen around here in nearly two decades abruptly ended with the flick of Aaron Rodgers' wrist, but now that the Super Bowl matchup has been set, I wouldn't assume it's still an easy pill to swallow.
I will say this, had Green Bay advanced to the Super Bowl and beaten the Falcons on the road, it would've been much worst. The Cowboys were close to beating the Packers, and had a few plays here and there gone differently, they would've advanced to the NFC Championship Game. And if the Falcons were to lose at home, you would've probably come to the conclusion they would've lost to Dallas on the road.
However, maybe this is a bit easier to accept.
Because as great as the Cowboys were all year, the Falcons were right there as well. And in the last few weeks, no one has played better than Atlanta. We're talking about a team that dominated the Seahawks defense in one round, and then cooled off Rodgers and the Packers in the second game.
I'm not saying the Cowboys couldn't have beaten the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game, and after what we've seen the last couple of weeks, it definitely would've been a steep challenge. A challenge that would've been fun to watch.
Last week on The Break, I made the statement that playing Green Bay seemed to be the toughest matchup among the final four NFC teams remaining. Basically, I was saying that if the Cowboys can get past the Packers, the championship game would be easier regardless if the Falcons or Seahawks advanced.
Wrong. The Falcons are playing at a super-high level right now and they can thank their defense for that.
[embeddedad0]This high-powered offense with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones is scary good, but they've been good all year. This is nothing new. It's the defense that has elevated its game and gave Rodgers all kinds of problems on Sunday. That pass rush is intense, and if they can do that again in two weeks, that might … MIGHT… give them a chance to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots.
But you have to give credit to the Falcons for stepping up their defense. For weeks, we thought of them as a one-sided team that couldn't stop a nosebleed. Instead, they're creating them.
To be fair, stopping the Packers and stopping the Cowboys is different. Just because you can limit a great passing game doesn't mean you're equipped to stopping a great running game. So matchups might have dictated the outcome a bit. Atlanta probably would've had some issues stopping Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys' group.
But from what we saw two Sundays ago, Dallas had all kinds of issues covering Devante Adams and Randall Cobb. Something tells me Julio Jones and that receiving corps would've been even tougher.
I'll admit I didn't watch the entire game on Sunday. I guess I was a bit annoyed for not having to "work" the game myself. While the fans have to be frustrated in their own right, don't forget that I have never covered an NFC Championship Game. It's the only game the NFL offers that I know nothing about. So yeah, I wanted to be there as well.
But I caught enough of the game to know what was going on. And here's a stat that jumped out to me: Atlanta had seven different players catch a pass for at least 15 yards. That's three receivers, two running backs, one tight end and one fullback all catching passes somewhat down the field.
Now that's dynamic.
I went back and did some quick research and the Cowboys didn't have one game this year where more than five players had a catch of 15 yards. Yeah, I get it. The team is built differently. The Cowboys pound the rock and don't throw it around like that.
But still, seven different guys catching the ball for first downs or more can create quite a problem in the pass defense.
Again, I'm not saying the Cowboys would've been blown out by the Falcons. Let's not forget that if Dallas had managed to complete the comeback on the Packers, this team might not have ever lost again.
Who knows? Who really knows about this crazy NFL?
All I'm saying is that beating the Packers wouldn't have guaranteed anything except a date with the hottest offense in the league.
But it's a date I wish we would've seen – no matter what the outcome would've been.
Take a look at some of our favorite photos from the memorable 2016 season, courtesy of team photographers Jeremiah Jhass and James D. Smith.