Cowboys looking to put decade of playoff doom in rearview
Posted: Friday, January 8, 2010 5:50 pm
By: By BARRY WILNER, AP Football Writer
The Cowboys haven’t won a playoff game in more than a decade. The Bengals haven’t won one in nearly two decades. That can change, they hope, in Saturday’s wild-card round.
Both get familiar foes: Dallas takes on NFC East rival Philadelphia for the third time since early November, and for the second straight week. Cincinnati also has a rematch from Week 17 against the New York Jets.
On Sunday, it’s Baltimore at New England and Green Bay at Arizona.
Unlike the Bengals, whose only appearance in the postseason since a 1990 playoff win against Houston — the Oilers, that is — was in 2005, Dallas is somewhat of a regular in the Super Bowl parade. Since beating Minnesota and then losing to Carolina in the ’96 postseason, the Cowboys have reached the playoffs six times, including now, meaning they’re on a six-game losing streak.
America’s Team? America’s flops in January.
“It’s surreal to be sitting here having to even answer that question,” owner Jerry Jones said. “I wouldn’t have dreamed that in ’96 we wouldn’t have (won) a playoff, and I wouldn’t have dreamed that we would have had the turnover in the coaches that we’ve had.
“I wouldn’t have dreamed we would have had some of the challenges that, whether it was self-imposed or not through me, that we’ve had in our quarterbacking. So all of those things as I look back over these years I couldn’t have imagined that.”
But imagine this: The Cowboys are among the hottest teams in the NFL heading into the playoffs. Dallas set a team record with 6,390 total yards, exceeding 6,000 in a season for the first time. The defense, which blanked the Eagles last weekend to win the division, allowed 33 points in the last four home games. The yield was 37 in the last four games overall.
Still, there is that 13-year run of disappointment, and the Eagles have won their first playoff game in seven consecutive postseason appearances. They’ve taken 10 playoff games since Dallas last won one.
And there’s this:
Since 1990, when the current playoff format was adopted, in nine first-round rematches following a final-game meeting, the loser of the regular-season game won the playoff matchup five times.
Plus, 19 times since the 1970 merger, a team has swept two games from an opponent and then they met in the playoffs. The sweeping team won 12 times. But the Cowboys were one of the losers, to the Giants in 2007.
“We’ve just got to put it together any way possible to go out there and win,” Eagles game-breaking receiver DeSean Jackson said. “They’ve got our number this year. They’ve beat us two times. I’m not going to put anything more into it. They’re a good team, but they’re a beatable team.”
So are the Jets, who lost seven times this season. But they went 5-1 down the stretch, got help from the Colts and Bengals resting regulars, and sneaked in at 9-7. They’re hotter than the Bengals, who finished 1-3 and struggled for much of the second half of the schedule.
Indeed, Cincinnati was 6-0 in winning the AFC North, but 4-6 outside the division.
Just being in the postseason is something very different for the Bengals and quarterback Carson Palmer, the top overall draft pick in 2003. In 2005, when the Bengals won their division, Palmer lasted two plays and one pass, a 66-yard completion to Chris Henry on which Palmer’s knee was wrecked when he was hit by Pittsburgh’s Kimo von Oelhoffen. The Bengals lost.
This is his return to the playoffs. Same for Cincy.
“Any NFL player sitting at home watching games is putting on a show,” Palmer said. “Nobody enjoys watching the first round, second round, third round, the Super Bowl. It’s tough to do. I think that is something that has really driven our team, and definitely me.”
Palmer and the Bengals face the top-ranked defense and No. 1 rushing offense in football, and NY dominated in those areas last Sunday night. But that was in the Meadowlands and Cincy had little to gain.
“I just hope we go out with the same intensity and I’m sure we will,” rookie coach Rex Ryan said. “Knowing that we’re going to get Cincinnati’s best shot, knowing that they are going to get ours, and see if we’re good enough to beat them.”
The Patriots were good enough to beat Baltimore 27-21 in October and won the AFC East at 10-6. The Ravens earned the other AFC wild card at 9-7.
New England will be without league-leading receiver Wes Welker, gone with a knee injury sustained last Sunday. Look for the Ravens to double-team Randy Moss on every down.
Look for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick to find other ways to attack a defense that is not quite as formidable as in recent years.
“For two days you’re going, ’We don’t have Wes. What are we going to do?”’ Brady said. “And then you put together a game plan and you get out there and practice and you’re like, ’Man, OK. All that stuff looks pretty good.”’
NFC West champ Arizona looked pretty bad a week ago in losing at home 33-7 to Green Bay. Neither team had anything on the line, but the Packers used their starters far longer than the Cardinals did.
This time, all the key guys should go, although such stars as Packers cornerback Charles Woodson (shoulder), Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin (ankle) and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (toe, knee) could be hobbled.
“Anytime one of your best players and your leaders isn’t on the football field it’s tough because you know the effort he gives every week,” Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner said. “You know what you can expect from him and there’s always a question mark when you have to have somebody else step in for those kinds of guys.”