FRISCO, Texas -- Last January, the Dallas Cowboys walked out of AT&T Stadium cursing Aaron Rodgers and his incredible third-down throw that set up the Green Bay Packers’ winning field goal in the final seconds.
In January 2015, the Cowboys walked out of Lambeau Field cursing former NFL director of officiating Dean Blandino for overturning a fourth-down Dez Bryant catch late in the fourth quarter that led to their loss to the Packers in the divisional round.
For a number of Cowboys, those two playoff losses were crushing. Both times they felt they had a team worthy of getting to a Super Bowl and both times they left with disheartening defeats.
Ten months after the Packers beat the Cowboys in the playoffs, they will return to AT&T Stadium.
Coming off a loss last week to the Los Angeles Rams, the Cowboys might need a win a little bit more than the 3-1 Packers. They might need it more to jump-start a season that has seen them follow a win one, lose one pattern through four games.
They might need it more to forget what happened the past two times these teams met in the playoffs.
“There’s motivating factors for everybody and definitely for me just because that was the second time I’ve lost to Green Bay and knocked us out of the playoffs,” said Tyrone Crawford, who is one of 18 players to have been in the 2014 playoff loss and the 2016 playoff loss. “It’s just something that it’s definitely something, I mean, it’s not a revenge thing it’s just something that is in the back of your mind and I guess that might be useful when it’s game time.”
Sunday will be the fifth time the Cowboys have played the Packers since 2014. They have won just once, 30-16 in last year’s regular season.
As much as the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins are the Cowboys’ natural rivals because of their NFC East ties, the Packers have become their nemesis because of what has happened the past two times they have made the playoffs.
“I do think what happens in the NFL is there is turnover with personnel and there is evolution in scheme in all three phases of your team so you’ve got to be careful about saying, ‘We know these guys,’” coach Jason Garrett said. “You’ve got to go back and see who they are right now, who’s playing for them and what they’re doing with those guys. We’ve tried to do that, but there’s no question we each have a background with each other.”
Dak Prescott was not interested in revisiting the playoff game, although he marveled at Rodgers’ third-and-20 throw. He wasn’t interested much in talking about the Cowboys’ convincing regular-season win at Lambeau Field last October either.
But he did acknowledge those games can help the Cowboys in a way on Sunday.
“That’s where last year it is relevant, we can look back and we know how they’re going to play us,” Prescott said. "So it’s going out there and it’s going to be about executing. They know what they’re going to get. We know what we’re going to get. It’s just about executing ball plays.”
Prescott threw six touchdown passes and was intercepted just twice in both games against Green Bay last year. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 282 yards on 50 carries in the two games. Bryant did not play in the regular-season meeting because of a tibial plateau fracture, but in the playoff matchup he caught nine passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
Maybe the Packers are exactly what the Cowboys need at this point of the season.
Prescott was able to exact some revenge on the Giants, the only team to beat him twice a year ago, at the start of the season. On Sunday against the Packers, he and the Cowboys will get another chance to right one of their few wrongs of 2016.
“It’s definitely in our heads,” Prescott said. “They knocked us out of the playoffs last year, so I mean we’re going back, I wouldn’t necessarily say for revenge, but to go get a win, to go show them what we’re capable of doing. We’re excited for it. It’s a good matchup. We’ve played them three times in a year. I mean, them and the Giants are the only ones I’ve done that with so far.”