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Spagnola: Time To Write New Playoff History


FRISCO, Texas – History, just love it.

Love reading about it. Love finding out about those who come before us. Love discovering what it's taken for us to be where we are today.

But as far as NFL history, as far as all these historical burdens being placed on these Dallas Cowboys heading to Tampa, Fla., for the Super Wild Card Weekend playoff game, what has taken place before them doesn't mean squat.

These are the 2022 Dallas Cowboys, the 12-5 Dallas Cowboys, winners of back-to-back 12-win seasons since – and here we go, history – for the first time since the 1993-95 seasons.

"The time is now," says veteran defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.

The past has nothing to do with the Cowboys meeting the 8-9 NFC South champion Buccaneers at 7:15 p.m. Monday before a packed crowd at Raymond James Stadium.

But seemingly this entire week, so many are placing the franchise's past failures on this team when trying to quantify how this game on MLK Day, Jan. 16, 2023, will unfold.

Why, these guys, and with an extra day of the outside chatter to compound the matter, have heard an endless chorus of how Bucs quarterback Tom Brady owns a 7-0 record all-time against the Cowboys. But these guys had nothing to do with the losses in 2003, 2007, but one guy in 2011 and but three in 2015.

Then there's the playoff drought. Yes, the Cowboys have not won a Super Bowl in 26 years, having to go back to that 1995 season when they won their third in four years, minimizing the fact they have pounded out 14 winning seasons and five others at .500 from 1996 through this 2022 season.

The Cowboys, since that 1995 playoff season, are 4-11 in their past 11 playoff appearances, and never once advancing past the divisional round games, those amounting to four games, with no conference championship game in sight.

And then it's been that the last Cowboys' _road_ playoff victory goes back 30 years, to that 1992 season NFC Championship Game victory over the San Francisco 49ers, 30-20, so long ago the Niners were then playing at old Candlestick Park, with the since deceased Pat Summerall and John Madden doing the game on the then NFC-centric CBS Network.

Hey, how come no one mentions the Cowboys are 2-0 in playoff games against Tampa Bay, the wins in the back-to-back seasons of 1981-82. Doesn't that mean something?

Think all this negativity resonates with Micah Parsons? Why, he's wasn't born until May 26 of 1999.

"No, I'm a year in," Parsons said when asked if the 26-year Super Bowl drought means anything to him. "I just can control what I can control. I can't control the past, what guys did in the past, or what they did before. I can control what I do, what the guys in this room do. That's all that matters to me.

"Why talk about it? It has no relevance. It's a whole different team, it's a whole different roster. The only person who might know is Jason Peters. He's the only person who might know. Outside of Jason Peters, this is a pretty young group. We're in here together, so we're good where we're at."

Exactly. (Footnote: Peters is 40 years old, born in 1982, when the Cowboys – oh, no, here we go again – lost their third straight NFC title game.)

Not bad Parsons, for a 23-year-old perspective.

But look, head coach Mike McCarthy is not tone deaf. He knows what he's being asked. He knows what his players are being asked. He's got an idea of the noise on social media, talk radio, the newspaper headlines, any sports network. So, this week he attempted to diffuse the negativity this team doesn't own since this Cowboys team, 2022, has never lost a road playoff game. Has never lost a playoff game, though the majority of the guys lost one in 2021, at home, 23-17, to San Francisco. And, by the way, counting last year's 31-29 loss at Tampa Bay, has only lost twice to Brady.

McCarthy decided to put some perspective to all this. At the start of one of his team meetings this week, McCarthy did this to demonstrate the wide gap between the 1992 team's last playoff road victory and today. He collected the baby pictures of 10 of his players born before that road game on Jan. 17, 1993, was played and put them up on the video screen in the team meeting room.

"The message that was given in the team meeting was, you know, we had 10 guys. We had the baby pictures of the 10 players and the dates they were born, and acknowledge that, and the reality is we have zero responsibility to what's happened here in the past, all the way back to even the San Francisco game," McCarthy said, referencing that last road playoff victory for the Cowboys. "This is about our opportunity, it's about what's in front of us, what we accomplished on our journey through the regular season, the thing we learned from the things that didn't go the way we wanted them to go and how we apply that to this one game, and how it's going to help us win the game."

Point being, first, this is a very young team, trying to also emphasize, as if there is not enough pressure in a win-or-go-home game, his guys are not responsible for past failures.

So, when looking at this team's roster, including those on injured reserve, there are 10 players born prior to that 1992 NFC title game, and an 11th when including the recently added Xavier Rhodes to the practice squad: Bryan Anger (1988), Anthony Barr (1992), C.J. Goodwin (1990), DeMarcus Lawrence (1992), Brett Maher (1989), Zack Martin (1990), Matt Overton (1985), Jason Peters (1982), Tyron Smith (1990) Johnathan Hankins (1992) and then Rhodes (1990).

That's it for those 30 or older. For context, Peters already was 10 years old by time that NFC Championship Game the Cowboys won at Candlestick was played.

No sense over-analyzing this game. These guys had nothing to do with losing eight straight road playoff games, dating back to the first one, the 1994 season NFC title game against the Niners back at Candlestick when the Cowboys turned the ball over their first three possessions, eventually making a gallant comeback, but losing 38-28.

McCarthy's message evidently has resonated with his players.

"Everything that's done before us, we can't control," receiver CeeDee Lamb echoed Parsons' comments. "What we can control is now."

And the now is this. The Cowboys lose the season opener to Tampa Bay, 19-3. The Cowboys lose the 2021 season opener to the Bucs, 31-29, on basically that walk-off field goal (two seconds left) when Brady drove the Bucs, with the aid of his 24-yard completion to Chris Godwin to the Cowboys 18 with 18 seconds remaining that should have been an offensive P.I. on Godwin, as he pushed Jourdan Lewis to the ground to create his needed separation. Believe me. Go look for yourself.

So that's the extent of this team's burden against Brady and their one-game contribution to the 4-11 record in playoff games beginning with the 1996 season divisional round playoff loss at Carolina when early in the game Michael Irvin was lost to a fractured shoulder and Deion Sanders suffered a fractured eye socket.

The Cowboys can't consume their thoughts with the past. Just offensively how to score more than three points this second time around against the Bucs and enough points to win a playoff game. How to stop Brady and a Tampa Bay offense averaging just 18 points a game and winning six of their eight games by no more than six points.

The Cowboys must own the moments, the big moments. This offense must make big plays. A defense registering a league high 33 takeaways and its 54 sacks tying for third, just one behind the Chiefs in second, must hold the Bucs to around their 18-point average.

And most of all, get a lead. Get a two-score lead. Do not let Brady hang around within one score and have the ball in his hands in the final minutes … final seconds.

"We need to take care of our business," says Dak Prescott, "and not leave it in (Brady's) hands."

Yep, remember, these Cowboys are not playing to right the so many playoff wrongs of the past. Not responsible. Makes no difference, not even if Brady beat the Cowboys "organization" those other five times with New England.


It's, as Martin says, who, yes, did have his baby picture up on the screen, "about what we do now."


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