AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions aren’t quite in win-or-go-home mode like the last time they visited his hometown Dallas Cowboys for a wild-card playoff two years ago.
The Lions could do their postseason hopes a lot of good Monday night with a victory, though. That includes scenarios where Detroit (9-5) clinches the NFC North by beating the conference-leading Cowboys, who were the first team to lock up a playoff berth this season.
It’s the second straight week Detroit can take a significant step toward the playoffs on the road against an NFC East contender. The Lions didn’t take advantage in a 17-6 loss to the New York Giants.
“Last week, we had opportunities to make some plays and we just didn’t make them,” Stafford said. “For the majority of the season, we’ve done a really nice job of, in those crucial times, making those plays. I’m sure this week and from here on out will be no different.”
Tony Romo made the crucial play to rally the Cowboys past the Lions 24-20 two years ago for just their second playoff win in two decades since their last Super Bowl title. He’s the backup now, replaced by Dak Prescott because the rookie led an 11-game winning streak while Romo was recovering from a preseason back injury.
The streak ended with Dallas’ second loss of the season to the Giants, but Prescott and the Cowboys (12-2) recovered by beating Tampa Bay.
Then the Cowboys clinched the NFC East title and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs when the Giants lost to Philadelphia on Thursday night.
The Giants-Eagles outcome didn’t concern Prescott, who followed his worst game as a pro against New York with the second-best completion percentage with at least 30 attempts in NFL history (88.9 percent).
“This game is going to matter,” he said. “Any game I play, I participate in and think pretty much everybody in this locker room, we want to win. We hold ourselves to high standards and I know I do individually. We want to win this game.”
Things to consider in a series in which four of the past five games, playoffs included, have been decided by four points or less:
HOMECOMING: Stafford will be playing on the same field a little more than a week after his high school, Dallas Highland Park, won its first state championship since Stafford won a title with the Scots in 2005. The latest title came with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ grandson, John Stephen Jones, at quarterback. “I don’t really know him, but obviously know the family and just happy that his success was a big part of Highland Park’s success,” Stafford said.
KETTLE 2.0? Don’t count on it. While Dallas rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t worried about getting in trouble with his coaches for jumping into an oversized Salvation Army red kettle to celebrate a touchdown against Tampa Bay, he’s pretty sure he got a one-time reprieve with the NFL deciding not to fine him. “I think I had one get out jail free card. I used it already,” the NFL rushing leader said.
PAIR OF SNUBS: Stafford and Dallas linebacker Sean Lee were among the most prominent snubs on the Pro Bowl roster. But at least the Cowboys are contenders with some Pro Bowlers. They have five (Prescott, Elliott and offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick). The Lions don’t have any. “I don’t think we’re going to have any sort of recount, but nevertheless, our guys are really focused on trying to win games,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.
GREGORY’S RETURN: Jerry Jones says he expects Randy Gregory to play in his return from a 14-game suspension. The second-year defensive end, banned for multiple violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, practiced for the first time Thursday. “Champing at the bit,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said.
DIFFERENT DEZ: In Detroit’s 31-30 victory in the last regular-season meeting between these teams in 2013, Dallas receiver Dez Bryant had an infamous sideline outburst and shouting match with tight end Jason Witten in Detroit when the Cowboys couldn’t hold a 10-point lead in the last 7 minutes. But Bryant has shown more maturity this season, most notably when he calmly went to the sideline after his late fumble cost the Cowboys in a 10-7 loss to the Giants two weeks ago.
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