ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Tony Romo’s first playoff game in five years is a second chance for the quarterback on the other side, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford.
Who knows how many more opportunities there will be for the 34-year-old Romo with the Dallas Cowboys, who have one playoff win since the last time they were anywhere near the Super Bowl nearly 20 years ago.
The Lions? They go into Sunday’s wild-card game at Stafford’s hometown team with just one postseason victory in the Super Bowl era after Stafford lost to New Orleans in his only try three years ago.
“I feel like I have been in the middle of it right now so I’m not too worried about it,” said Stafford, who grew up in the Dallas area. “I’m just trying to win every game if I can. You know you have to deal with all that kind of stuff and had some success and some years I’d like to have back, too. It’s an ongoing process.”
“Coach Process” — that’s what Jason Garrett is called sometimes because of his affinity for the word — led the Cowboys (12-4) to the NFC East title after three straight 8-8 seasons ended with a loss that kept them out of the playoffs and fueled questions about his job security that are gone now.
Romo was the league’s most efficient quarterback with a boost from NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray, who gained 1,845 yards behind a stout offensive line rebuilt through three first-round picks in the past four drafts — tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and guard Zack Martin.
Apparently knowing he had more help, Romo predicted in training camp that his best years were ahead of him despite back surgery that ended his 2013 season a game early. And his message didn’t change after another back injury kept him out of one game this year.
“I think more than anything it’s just about playing the right way and being the best version of yourself and figuring out how to create that,” said Romo, who is 1-3 in the playoffs after beating Philadelphia and losing to Minnesota during the 2009 season. “We’ve done a really good job being very efficient and explosive in the pass game and we’ll continue hopefully to do that.”
KEYS TO THE GAME
Things to consider as the Lions (11-5) for go for their first playoff win since beating the Cowboys 38-6 during the 1991 season.
SUH’S OUT, THEN HE’S IN: Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was suspended Monday for stepping on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ leg twice in the regular-season finale, which the Packers won to secure the NFC North and a first-round bye. But the suspension was rescinded a day later, a decision that could go a long way toward determining whether the league’s best rushing defense can keep Murray under 100 yards for just the fifth time this season.
“You can’t worry about things like that,” Murray said. “You’ve just got to play ball and try to execute what you do offensively.”
THE LAST TIME: Calvin Johnson had the second-highest receiving total in NFL history with 329 yards in Detroit’s 31-30 win over Dallas last season, when Stafford drove them 80 yards in less than a minute for the winning score in the final seconds. High-priced Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr was the primary victim, and he was on the wrong side of history again this year when Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants made a circus catch over him.
“Last year, he got the best of us,” Carr said. “The good thing about football is you get a chance to do it again.”
DON’T FORGET ABOUT DEZ: Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant had a sideline tantrum last year in Detroit after Stafford fooled the Cowboys by sneaking the ball over the goal line for the winning TD, negating a pair of scores from Bryant. He also left the sideline early in another gut-wrenching loss at home to Green Bay, but this year all of his headlines have been on the field — and between the sidelines. He broke Terrell Owens’ franchise record with 17 touchdown catches.
“Just across the board they’re explosive offensively,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “They’ve got all kinds of weapons.”
FAIRLEY UNLIKELY: Nick Fairley, Suh’s partner on the interior of the Detroit defensive line, is doubtful with a right knee injury that has sidelined him for two months. Even without him, the Lions have 42 sacks to 28 for the Cowboys. “They have a scheme they believe in,” Garrett said. “They’re good on the front. They’re good against the run. They affect the quarterback. They make a lot of plays on the ball.”
QB-COACH CONNECTION: Cowboys play-caller Scott Linehan was Stafford’s offensive coordinator his first five seasons after the Lions made him the No. 1 pick in 2009. When Linehan came to Dallas this season, he decided to send his son to Highland Park High School, where Stafford played. “I had five great years with him,” Linehan said. “It was a sad day for me and my family for that day to end.”