Let's Join The Circus, Too

Philadelphia. All we need say is "load left". (If you don't know that reference, it won't be tough finding someone who will.) After that loss Dallas had gone from 10-2 to 10-4, and the world was officially coming to an end. You could look it up. 

Game 15 was a home 21-20 squeaker over the eventual 5-11 New York Giants, won only because of a ridiculous catch by Cowboys receiver Kevin Williams. (I make that the '95 version of this year's Detroit game.) 

Then came Christmas night in Arizona, where the Cowboys learned literally in flight that San Francisco had lost and a win over the Cardinals would guarantee home field throughout the playoffs. 

Putting the lie to the notion that a team could not just "flip a switch" and start playing well, the '95 Cowboys did, spanking the Cardinals 37-13, enjoying the bye, beating a division foe (Philadelphia) in the divisional round and Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game at home en route to the Super Bowl in Arizona. 

When you haven't played in a while and haven't played well in longer, the inevitability of disaster is an easy conclusion to reach. But talk to the players at Valley Ranch. They sure don't seem like a team absent its focus. The New York Giants will be a DIFFICULT opponent, in all caps. They're a good team playing well and they're confident. They absolutely think they can come back to Texas Stadium and win this game. 

Guess what? They're supposed to think that. There are only eight teams left, for crying out loud. There aren't supposed to be any more humpty-dumpties. 

But to suggest that the Cowboys are at a disadvantage because two of their coaches have interviewed for head coaching jobs is more than short-sighted. Former Cowboys assistant Joe Avezzano visited Valley Ranch Wednesday in his current capacity as a talk show commentator. He remembered being on the coaching staff in 1992, when Dave Wannstedt interviewed with (and was hired by) Chicago. Same thing the next year with Norv Turner and Washington. 

"We won the Super Bowl both years," Avezzano recalled. "Coaches are prideful individuals. They won't let anything stand in the rare way of winning a championship." 

But they have to beat the Giants for the third time in a season. Everyone knows it's hard to do, almost impossible. 

Uh, maybe not so much. Since the 1970 NFL merger, there have been 17 "third-time" meetings in the playoffs. The team that won the first two won again 11 times.  

People think it's hard to win three times because it's so darned hard to win one time. What players and coaches have to be ready for is a demanding game beyond experience. 

Cowboys secondary coach Todd Bowles was a rookie in Washington in 1986, when the Redskins lost the championship game to the Giants, 17-0. 

"It was one of the most brutal games I ever played in," Bowles recalled. "The key to this game is going to be avoiding costly turnovers early and keeping our emotions under control. I actually think the game we lost in Washington helps us with that. There are lessons to be learned from that atmosphere." 

But the Giants have moved the ball twice almost at will against Dallas this year: 35 points, 438 yards in September, then 20 points and 300 yards in November. Yes, and Eli Manning, the Giants quarterback, has played quite well in both. 

And Romo, in his four appearances against the Giants (including the game he entered at halftime in 2006 when the keys were handed over), has passed at a 62-percent clip with 1,076 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions, averaging 9.7 yards per attempt. 

Points will be scored Sunday. Prepare for it. Emotions will be high. 

It's what you play for all year long. 

But this just in: The Cowboys will arrive at the stadium and do their best to give the Giants a game. If they're not too distracted to find the stadium.   

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