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Know your history: The Cowboys-Falcons matchup

One of the worst games in Cowboys history came against Atlanta

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys will try to bounce back from a season-opening loss as they return home to host the Atlanta Falcons, also coming off a loss in the first week of the season. These two teams have played each other 28 times, with 26 of those games coming in the regular season, but the first one Cowboys fans will remember is from the 2017 season.

We all remember it clearly. The Cowboys were riding a three-game win streak and sitting at 5-3 when Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension actually took effect, in addition to losing Tyron Smith to injury. With backup Chaz Green making the start at left tackle, and the combination of Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden, and Rod Smith trying to replace Zeke, the Cowboys were thrashed 27-7.

Dak Prescott was sacked eight times, six of which were due to Adrian Clayborn abusing Green, and the team fell apart. That kicked off a three-game losing streak, which played a huge part in the Cowboys missing the postseason that year.

Fans may not have realized it, but that loss actually made it three consecutive losses to the Falcons for America’s Team. Dak and company were able to snap that streak in 2018, upsetting Atlanta in the second game of what ended up being a five-game win streak that propelled the Cowboys into the playoffs.

It was a rare moment of recent supremacy for the Cowboys in this series. The Cowboys and Falcons have played each other eight times this century, with Atlanta winning five of them. It’s not just that Atlanta won most of these games, it’s the way they won them. In their wins over Dallas, the Falcons outscored the Cowboys 132-74. Prior to their upset victory in 2018, the Cowboys’ only two wins of the century came in 2006 (the last game Bill Parcells won with the team) and 2009.

Yet these two teams saw each other plenty in the 90’s. From 1990-1993, the Falcons were led by head coach Jerry Glanville and offensive coordinator June Jones, whose prolific Run N Shoot offense produced one of the NFL’s very few receiver trios to record 1,000 receiving yards for each player. After the 1993 season, Glanville was fired and Jones was promoted to head coach. Jones would get fired after three seasons, at which point Dan Reeves took over and led the Falcons to the Super Bowl in 1998, ultimately losing to Reeves’ former team, the Denver Broncos.

The Falcons during this century saw a lot of high peaks and low valleys. Each of those three coaches made the playoffs at least once and also finished with double-digit losses at least once during their tenures in Atlanta.

And while the Cowboys were riding high with Jimmy Johnson, and later Barry Switzer, for most of the decade, they met this consistently inconsistent Falcons team seven times in ten seasons. Not surprisingly, the Cowboys won five of those seven games, outscoring Atlanta 156-92. Despite the Cowboys having their number, the 90’s were the first real taste of success for the Falcons.

For most of the 80’s, the Falcons were languishing in bad football, not unlike the Cowboys at that time. Atlanta fielded just one winning record, which came in the 1980 season. They were bounced out of the playoffs by the Cowboys, as a matter of fact.

That was the second of two postseason matchups between these two, with the first contest coming in the 1978 season. The Falcons in those years, oddly enough, were led by general manager and former Cowboys quarterback Eddie LeBaron. Glanville, at the time just beginning his coaching career, was Atlanta’s defensive backs coach, while Jones was their backup quarterback. Also of note: Bill Walsh served as the Atlanta offensive line coach.

Of course, the Cowboys were in no short supply of legends in their own right. Tom Landry was posting his 13th consecutive winning season in 1978 after winning his second Super Bowl the year before, and the team featured the likes of Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Drew Pearson, Randy White, Harvey, Martin, and Bob Breunig. After knocking the Falcons out of the playoffs that year, they rode through to the Super Bowl, making Dallas the first franchise to ever appear in five Super Bowls.

Two years later, Landry’s Cowboys once again had the honor of knocking the Falcons out of the playoffs, though they would lose their next game, the conference championship match, to the rival Eagles. The two teams have never faced each other in the playoffs since then.

On the whole, Dallas leads the series 17-11, with a 15-11 record in regular season games. Nearly half of the Falcons’ wins have come in the last 20 years, with the Cowboys’ only consecutive wins coming between two different head coaches: Parcells and Wade Phillips. Now, in Mike McCarthy’s first year in Dallas, they have a chance to make another win streak versus the Falcons between two different leaders.