Commentary

Recent playoff history unkind to Boys

Updated: January 9, 2010, 12:01 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys are a franchise built on winning championships.

Walk around the Cowboys' practice facility at Valley Ranch, and you'll see replicas of five Super Bowl trophies and photos of players and coaches from championship games.

In recent years, those trophies and photos are as close as the Cowboys have gotten to a championship, much less playing for one.

Dallas has not won a playoff game since 1996 -- the sixth-longest active streak in the NFL. The Cowboys hope to end that streak when they take on the Philadelphia Eagles in an NFC wild-card game at Cowboys Stadium.

[+] EnlargeJason Witten
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImageJason Witten and the Cowboys seek to silence their playoff demons against the Eagles Saturday night.

It's hard to believe the Cowboys have such a playoff drought considering they've appeared in more Super Bowls (eight) and more playoff games (56) and won more postseason games (32) than any other franchise in NFL history. But since their last playoff win, the Cowboys have hired five different head coaches and started 12 different quarterbacks.

"It's surreal to be sitting here having to even answer that question," Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said about his response to a lack of playoff wins. "I wouldn't have dreamed that '96 [would be our last playoff win]. I wouldn't have dreamed that we would have had the turnover in the coaches that we've had."

If the Cowboys are going to end this streak, they will have to beat the Eagles for a third time. Dallas won the first two games by a combined score of 44-16.

Compounding matters is that since 1970, there have been 19 playoff games in which one team had beaten the other twice during the regular season. In 12 of those playoff games, the team that swept the regular-season series won the playoff game.

"You actually have to trick yourself to feeling like you're playing a different team," inside linebacker Bradie James said about playing the Eagles again. "I wish it was a Cincinnati, just so it can be a fresh start or whatever. But that's not what it is. So guys have to be very focused mentally, and that will get us over the hump."

Eagles coach Andy Reid has never lost in the wild-card round. He's 4-0. The man he faces Saturday, Wade Phillips, has never won a playoff game. He's 0-4.

A lack of playoff success doesn't appear to bother Phillips because his approach is that this is a different team and a different year. While that's true, his core group of players has won two NFC East titles, which is nice, but hasn't accomplished the team's ultimate goal -- winning championships.

"For all of us, this doesn't happen every year, and a lot of work has gone in to get to this point," tight end Jason Witten said. "It's a huge challenge. You appreciate this challenge you have."

Defensive end Marcus Spears, Witten and James said the maturity of the team has gotten better over the years. After difficult playoff losses to Seattle in 2006 and the New York Giants in 2007, this Cowboys team is determined not to take things for granted.

Dallas' struggles toward the end of the year led to issues in the postseason. In the last five weeks, the Cowboys are 3-2, the first time since 1996 the team had finished December/January with a winning record.

That in itself, as the Cowboys enter the Eagles game with a two-game winning streak, gives them hope for a victory Saturday night.

"Obviously it's been frustrating not to have success," Witten said. "I think it bothers you, and you take pride in that. If anything, it allows you to appreciate this opportunity you have right now and really take full advantage of it."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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