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What Cowboys must do to end championship game drought of 25 years

While the goal is to win the Super Bowl, it’s been a quarter century now since the Dallas Cowboys last reached even as far as the NFC Championship game.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2020, file phot, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) lifts his fist to cheers from fans as he is carted off the field after suffering an injury while running the ball during the second half of the team's NFL football game against the New York Giants in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys are on the verge of a lost year, when they had hoped to contend, after a broken ankle ended the quarterback's season. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth, File)

It’s not always easy following the Dallas Cowboys of the recent era, especially when the playoffs are in full swing and the local team isn’t among the final few standing. With the conference championships set to be played, here’s a painful reminder that it’s been 25 years since the Cowboys have been in the NFC Championship game.

For a storied franchise like the Cowboys, that’s sad and pathetic and any other word you can think of to describe how futile things have been for Dallas since the late 1990s.

If the Cowboys were watching the divisional round over the weekend, they could learn from what they saw in order to end the drought and reach the final four of football again. The ironic thing is they aren’t that far off. With some good fortune health-wise, an improved defense, and the return of starting quarterback Dak Prescott, the Cowboys can make a run in the 2021 playoffs.

As always, it starts with the QB. The Kansas City Chiefs traded up for their franchise guy when they selected Patrick Mahomes 10th overall in 2017. A year later, the Buffalo Bills drafted Josh Allen 7th overall and built a scheme around him to make him successful. The Green Bay Packers helped rejuvenate future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers with a fresh scheme.

Finally, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers realized they needed an upgrade to get them where they wanted to go, so they signed the greatest quarterback in league history and Tom Brady has led them back to the NFC title game for the first time since they won the Super Bowl in 2002.

Those four quarterbacks played well in their wins and the Cowboys already have a leg up in the race because they have a winner in Prescott. It shouldn’t need to be said and it isn’t complicated, Dallas needs to re-sign their franchise quarterback and continue to allow him to win games.

Sign Prescott and give your team their best shot at winning big games, it’s that easy.

Turnovers were another key to winning on divisional weekend. The Cowboys found out too late in the season that getting takeaways is a big piece of the winning puzzle, and it was evident again this past weekend. 

Take the ball away and give your offense short fields to work with and convert your opportunities into points. That formula especially helped the Bucs pull an upset over the New Orleans Saints.

Additionally, the Cleveland Browns lost the turnover battle against Kansas City, and that proved a killer in their upset bid. Meanwhile, the Bills scored on their interception in the end zone as the Baltimore Ravens were driving to try to tie the game. Those are the types of plays that win big games in the playoffs.

Also, in total, the four winners from the divisional round only turned the ball over once. Giving the ball away was certainly something the Cowboys struggled with in 2020, especially early in the year. The plan for next year should be to exploit the turnover differential, not be exploited.

The divisional round also reinforced something that the Cowboys began doing this season under Mike McCarthy. The winning teams were aggressive, especially on fourth downs. The Ravens were ultimately haunted by electing to not go for it on a couple of fourth and short distances, which resulted in field goals missed.

Tampa Bay went for it on a key fourth down and came away with three points and the Browns stayed in their game against the Chiefs in part because they were aggressive, going 3-3 on their fourth down attempts.

However, it was Chiefs coach Andy Reid who demonstrated that being aggressive and playing to win pays off. A fourth and one conversion to seal the win was a gamble that not many coaches would take.

The Cowboys under McCarthy leaned on being as assertive as possible and that could pay dividends in the future.

It began for Dallas in Week 1 when McCarthy went for it on fourth down near the goal line instead of settling for an attempt to tie the game and the aggression continued with fake punts and consistently going for it in advantageous fourth down situations. McCarthy is building a belief in his players, with the hope they return that conviction with better execution.

That was something McCarthy promised when he joined the Cowboys and the team bought in. This past weekend’s results proves McCarthy right and, with a few more lessons heeded, the team could be on the path to end the drought.

Do you think the Cowboys will end their championship game drought during Mike McCarthy’s tenure? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.