Ask Ezekiel Elliott about last January's playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams and his response will be brief.
"It was a year ago," Elliott said after practice on Wednesday.
A year is a long time in the NFL, and both teams are going into the rematch this Sunday searching for the success they took into last season's playoff matchup. The Cowboys had defeated the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card round to advance to play the Rams, and the Rams were coming off a 13-3 season with an explosive offense.
"It seems like yesterday and it also seems like 10 years ago," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said of the playoff game.
The core of both teams is still intact for the rematch. The same head coaches are leading both teams. Both explosive running backs are healthy and available, and both young quarterbacks are developing right in front of their fans' eyes.
But Sunday's game lacks the same blockbuster billing because neither team has found any consistency this season. At 8-5, the Rams are currently outside of the playoff picture, fighting for their chance to compete in the postseason. Dallas, the beneficiaries of a struggling division, are sitting at 6-7, hoping to mitigate their struggles before a possible playoff berth.
"We're both desperate," quarterback Dak Prescott said Thursday. "You never know which game is going to be the game that decides if you make the playoffs or if you don't make the playoffs."
Even if the faces are the same, the mood around these two teams is different than it was last January. Rams head coach Sean McVay is no longer the talk of the NFL the way he was last season, and Garrett has been under intense criticism for the Cowboys' inconsistencies. Both teams signed their star running backs to massive contracts, but have seemingly failed to maximize their contributions this season.
Todd Gurley and former Ram running back C.J. Anderson combined for 238 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in that playoff matchup, while Elliott was held to just 47 yards and a score.
"[It's a] different team, different time," Garrett said of last year's performance. Gurley and Elliott, who could make a case for being the two most talented runners in the NFL, aren't producing the results their fans have come to expect. Elliott ranks fifth in yards gained this season and Gurley ranks 17th.
But no one would question what either Elliott or Gurley are capable of in a single game, as two of the league's most exciting players. To that point, there are plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball for each team, so there's no question that either or both teams can rise to the level at which they were performing last season.
Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said Thursday that there's value to watching the film of January's playoff game, mentioning that the Rams have "a lot of the same players" on their defensive front seven and the structure to their defense is basically the same, with a few minor tweaks.
"It's a really good game to watch and learn from," Moore said.