There was no team overlooked en route to where the Cowboys currently stand, but with a chance to stamp their ticket to the NFC Championship, they're seeking payback vs. SF
FRISCO, TX — There's a lot to be said for the value of catharsis, in both life and in sports, and the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to earn a wheelbarrow full of it this postseason. It began with finally exorcising one of their demons on NFL Super Wild Card Weekend, defeating Tom Brady (and in the postseason, no less), and next comes the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Round.
It's the team that walked into AT&T Stadium last January and knocked the Cowboys out of the playoffs so, needless to say, it's been a thorn in the side of players like Micah Parsons, Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb and other players — coaches alike — who felt the sting of the loss.
"It sucked," Lamb admitted on Thursday, who caught only one pass in the loss and is himself looking to have a much different outing in San Francisco to wash that taste from his mouth.
To say Parsons feels similarly is an understatement.
"I really think we beat ourselves last year with the penalties, the offsides, things like that," said Parsons. "If you just play your game — the biggest misconception is that you have to go out there and be different, that you have to go out there and try to out-physical a team, that you want to play their game.
"Why play their game? Play your game. Let's play Dallas football. That's all we got to do."
It's a matchup that will be the biggest challenge for both teams, despite the narrative being the impossibility of a Cowboys victory, and the latter is something no one in Dallas is naive to.
"It's like [in that Muhammed Ali documentary], we hear what everybody's saying, we hear it: 'No way the Cowboys going to win, no way.'
"Honestly, I think you should feed into it, you should love that stuff. When no one believes in you, that's the best feeling; not when everyone believes in you and the Kool-Aid is up and everyone is smiling like, 'They can't lose. They're too good.' I don't want that feeling because then it's like, damn, what if I don't win?
"When you're already at the bottom, you can only go up. I really like being the underdog."
For what it's worth, the Cowboys are literal underdogs walking into this game, per the odds funneling out of Vegas.
"We've been playing Dallas football and we won games. so I don't want to go out there and out-compete the 49ers," Parsons added. "They're going to beat my ass if I play their game. I'm going to play my game. I'm going to bring my strengths and what I bring to the table. They'll bring their strengths.
"So let's just battle it out."
A battle it shall be, with two of the best teams in the NFL locking horns with a shot at appearing in the NFC Championship Game, something the Cowboys haven't played in since the 1995 season. Owners of a 13-4 record and home field advantage, along with a dominant defense of their own, a well-performing rookie quarterback and an 11-game win streak, the pressure is on the 49ers to avoid an upset at the hands of a Cowboys team many expect to lose.
The coaches and players themselves, however, expect the opposite result.
"I'm super excited," Parsons said. "This is who I wanted. I mean people like to go around, ah, if they lose here — nah. If this is the three-headed dragon, we need to cut one of their heads off. I don't care who it is, we've got to line it up because, either way, you're going to meet them at some point. You're going to be ready for the moment.
"I'd rather it now than later, know what I'm saying."
For his part, Prescott certainly does.
"Most definitely I [wanted the rematch]," said the two-time Pro Bowler. "I think this whole team did. Obviously, using that loss last year as a motivation and just kind of the focal point of the resiliency that we carried into the offseason, [that we] carried into this year.
"Yeah, we get a chance to go back and at their place, do something that we want to do."
And so the age-old NFC rivalry is reborn, as the biggest game of thus far this season approaches and with no shortage of motivation for the Cowboys to shock the world for a second consecutive week.
This game will be decided not only by scheme, but mostly by playmakers on both sides of the ball; and that includes Parsons (who has long been in the conversation for NFL Defensive Player of the Year alongside Nick Bosa).
"The bigger the stage, the bigger the player, right?" said Parsons.