IRVING, Texas – It seems that fate has decided to test Jason Garrett's mantra from as many different directions as possible.
The Cowboys' head coach has maintained the same attitude, the same focus from his team's 0-1 start, all the way up to its wildcard win on Sunday – control what can be controlled, worry only about the next challenge.
"It certainly was a big focus for us as a coaching staff last week to stay in that same routine, to prepare each day, focus on each day and focus on just going out and playing," Garrett said on Monday afternoon.
With Sunday's 24-20 win against Detroit behind them, the Cowboys will once again attempt to shift the focus. It figures to be quite difficult, however.
A divisional round trip to play the No. 2 seed Packers is as big a game as this franchise has played in the last 20 years. Even Cowboys stalwarts like Tony Romo and Jason Witten, who are not strangers to the playoffs, have never gone beyond the second round.
"We understand the stakes are higher, everybody gets that," Garrett said. "But the idea to somehow, some way to create a feeling like you're just going to play like you always play."
If it wasn't enough to be playing for a trip to the NFC Championship Game, the Cowboys couldn't have picked a more iconic setting. This weekend's trip to Green Bay will be the Cowboys' first playoff game at Lambeau Field since the 1967 NFL Championship Game – the famously named "Ice Bowl," which saw the Packers edge the Cowboys, 21-17, in one of the league's all-time great games.
"Guys like football and guys understand the history and tradition of the NFL and the Cowboys and Packers," Garrett said. "It's an exciting game to be a part of it."
Garrett will have to hope this team's first experience with the playoff atmosphere will better prepare it for the hype that has yet to come, though.
In a moment of candor, he acknowledged what many had suggested about Sunday's game. In an ugly start, the Cowboys allowed 155 yards of offense and both of the Lions' touchdowns in the first quarter. It wasn't in keeping with the focus this team has displayed over the past five weeks.
"To be honest with you, I don't know that we achieved that early on in the ballgame," he said. "I think guys were excited, they were amped up, and at different times we didn't play with as good of technique as we've played with in all three phases up to this point in the season."
The Cowboys settled down, clearly. They limited the Lions' prolific offense to 242 yards and six points after the first quarter. Their own offense, which stagnated to start, sprang to life in outscoring Detroit, 17-3 after halftime.
"Put a smile on your face and just go play. I think our guys understood that and I do think some of the plays that we did make right at the end of the first half helped our guys do that," Garrett said. "We went out there and certainly played with the right mentality, mindset and demeanor in that second half."
On the list of things to give Garrett credit for, his ability to keep a normal, routine-oriented approach has got to be near the top. Through all the various successes and setbacks – the six-game win streak in September and October, Tony Romo's back injury, this run to the playoffs – game weeks at Valley Ranch have felt startlingly similar.
Even in the playoffs, where games are played on Saturday and Sunday, Dallas has the added benefit of playing Sunday games in both rounds – allowing them to maintain the same routine.
"Same process that we normally go through. We have a Sunday to Sunday schedule," Garrett said. "Players will be in there tomorrow and we'll clean up what happened in the game and build on some of the good and make sure that we correct the stuff that wasn't so good and then move on."
This week will present an interesting contrast for the Cowboys. In trying to maintain his team's focus, Garrett had his starters play an essentially meaningless division game against Washington, rather than give them a chance to rest. The idea was that it would keep them in routine.
Sunday's opponent, the Packers, had a week to rest and recover while the Cowboys faced the Lions.
"There's probably a little bit to the tradeoff between getting yourself some rest, mental and physical rest you get with the bye, versus hey, we're on a little bit of a roll here, let's keep playing in this same rhythm," Garrett said.
Of course, the Packers potentially hold an advantage in experience. This is Green Bay's 10th playoff game since Aaron Rodgers took over the reins at quarterback. The Packers have won a Super Bowl and played in the divisional round in three of the past four seasons.