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Know Your History: The Cowboys-Ravens matchup

These two teams, the Cowboys and the Ravens, rarely meet.

NFL: NOV 20 Ravens at Cowboys Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Heading into the 2020 season, expectations were high for both the Cowboys and Ravens. For Baltimore, they enjoyed a 14-2 season last year led by Lamar Jackson’s MVP year, although they exited the playoffs far too early. For Dallas, they had another young quarterback coming off a career year in Dak Prescott, and the addition of Mike McCarthy at head coach was expected to put the team over the hump.

But as these two teams meet on Tuesday in the midst of some wild schedule changes, neither team has lived up to the hype. The Ravens are 6-5, and have lost three in a row; their last loss came in a game where they were down most of their starters, including Jackson, due to a COVID-19 outbreak. The Cowboys, on the other hand, lost Prescott and other key players to injuries early on, and are 3-8 right now.

Both are very low marks for two franchises that have become accustomed to success, but it might surprise you to know that these two teams have only ever met in five games. That ties the Ravens with the Houston Texans for the least amount of games the Cowboys have ever played against one opponent. It doesn’t seem right, since the Cowboys have faced each of Baltimore’s divisional foes at least 12 times, but it makes sense. After all, the Ravens and Texans are the two newest franchises in the NFL.

While Houston got the Texans as an expansion team in 2002 after the Oilers left for Tennessee, the Ravens were the result of a team relocation. During the 1995 season, the Browns - who were led by head coach Bill Belichick and coming off a playoff victory the year before - received news that owner Art Modell would be moving the team to Baltimore, a decision that remains controversial to this day. While the Browns’ roster was retained in Baltimore, it was decided that all of the records would stay under the name of the Cleveland Browns, and the new team in Baltimore was effectively treated like an expansion team.

Thus, the Ravens were born. Their first season was in 1996, and in just five years time they were celebrating their first Super Bowl. After the franchise began in the most ugly way, with the divorce from Cleveland followed by the firing of Belichick, they quickly built a reputation as one of the most competent, stable, and successful organizations in the NFL. They made a seamless transition from head coach Brian Billick (who won their first Super Bowl in 2000) to John Harbaugh (who won the second Super Bowl in 2012), and have so far made another seamless transition from general manager Ozzie Newsome to Eric DeCosta.

But through the brief history that is the Ravens’ existence, they’ve only crossed paths with the Cowboys five times. Not surprisingly, the Ravens have won four of those games. Their first matchup came in Baltimore’s Super Bowl season. The Cowboys had just fired Chan Gailey the year prior, and Dave Campo was in his first season as the head coach. Dallas entered the game at 4-6, while the Ravens had marched out to a 7-4 record thanks in large part to their dominant defense.

It didn’t go well for the Cowboys, who got shut out in a 27-0 loss on the road. Troy Aikman threw three picks, Emmitt Smith was limited to just 48 rushing yards, and Ravens running backs Jamal Lewis and Priest Holmes gashed the Dallas defense for a combined 251 rushing yards on just 41 carries.

The next time the two teams met, the result wasn’t much different. In 2004, the Cowboys were in Bill Parcells’ second year at the helm, and not doing well. Sitting at 3-6 and having lost five of their last six games, Dallas traveled on the road to face the 6-3 Ravens. Coincidentally, the Ravens’ defensive coordinator at the time was Mike Nolan. While the Cowboys weren’t shut out, Nolan’s defense did do a number on them. Vinny Testaverde threw two picks, the second of which was returned for a touchdown. That led to Drew Henson coming into the game, and while he completed all six of his passes and threw a touchdown, it was too little too late. Baltimore won the game 30-10 on the strength of two touchdown passes from Kyle Boller.

Four years later, it was Wade Phillips’ turn to try and get a win against the Ravens. Baltimore was in their first year under Harbaugh’s leadership, and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco had them with a 9-5 record heading into Dallas. The Cowboys, on the other hand, were trying to make a late surge into the playoffs. After starting out just 5-4, they won four of their last five heading into the Ravens game in Week 16. Once again Dallas lost, although the final score of 33-24 was their closest matchup so far. Of course, Dallas also lost the next week to the Eagles and missed out on the postseason.

Their next matchup, in 2012, featured Jason Garrett at head coach. Once again on the road, Dallas lost by a very narrow 31-29 score that featured a 108-yard kickoff return touchdown by Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones and a failed two-point conversion with 32 seconds left on the clock that would have tied the game. That was followed up by an onside kick recovery that, thanks to some poor clock management, resulted in the loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions:

The next time these two teams met was 2016, making Garrett the only Cowboys head coach to face the Ravens multiple times. It also resulted in the Cowboys’ first ever win over Baltimore, who had fired their offensive coordinator earlier that year. The Cowboys, winners of eight in a row coming into the game, got another great performance from the rookie duo of Dak and Zeke. The former tossed three touchdowns and the latter accumulated 127 total yards to lead Dallas to a 27-17 victory and extend their winning streak.

Now they meet again, and Dallas once again has a new head coach. For what it’s worth, McCarthy is 2-1 in his few games against the Ravens, including going 1-0 in Baltimore. If he manages to make that 2-0 on Tuesday, it would not only help the Cowboys somehow stay in the NFC East race this year, but would also give the franchise its first ever win in Baltimore. With the Ravens still recovering from their outbreak, it seems anything is possible.

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