AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Matthew Stafford doesn’t dwell on Detroit’s loss to his hometown Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs two years ago.
The Lions quarterback focuses on the good memories as he prepares for another homecoming Monday night, knowing his team can clinch a postseason berth with a victory.
“I really like coming home and playing in Dallas,” Stafford said. “It’s where I grew up. I played a lot of football in the state of Texas and in Dallas in my life. It’s a lot of fun going home, seeing friends and family, but at the same time just trying to win a ballgame against a really good team.”
The Cowboys (12-2) have clinched the NFC East title and home-field advantage in the playoffs. Dallas did it without playing thanks to Philadelphia beating the New York Giants on Thursday.
Detroit (9-5) got a similar boost on Christmas Eve with Tampa Bay’s loss to New Orleans.
The Lions can’t clinch the NFC North. That will have to wait until the finale at home against Green Bay. But they’re in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons under coach Jim Caldwell if they beat Dallas for the third straight time in the regular season.
Caldwell said before the Bucs lost that none of the scores would affect his team’s approach.
“That’s the short answer,” he said. “We’re going to go out and prepare like we normally prepare and play like we normally play.”
Stafford will play at the $1.2 billion home of the Cowboys a little more than a week after his high school, Dallas Highland Park, celebrated on that field after winning its first state title since Stafford led the way 11 years ago.
Highland Park’s quarterback is John Stephen Jones, the grandson of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. While Highland Park binds Stafford and the Jones family, the quarterback said he doesn’t know the younger Jones and hadn’t reached out to his dad, Cowboys executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones.
“Obviously proud and happy for him and the team, but my relationship with the Jones family is just very limited,” Stafford said. “We know each other, obviously live in the same area, but that’s about it.”
The last time he was on that field, Stafford had to watch one of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo’s signature celebratory moments — face down on the turf, arms outstretched in exuberance after throwing an 8-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter in the Cowboys’ 24-20 win.
The loss dropped Stafford to 0-2 in the playoffs, but he’s 2-0 against Dallas in the regular season, averaging 364 yards per game.
One of the best moments for the No. 1 overall pick in 2009 was leading the Lions 80 yards in 50 seconds, capped by his 1-yard sneak with 12 seconds remaining for a 31-30 win over the Cowboys in 2013. Detroit had trailed by 10 points in the final four minutes.
“Anybody wants to play better because they’re from somewhere around there or because it’s the holidays, that’s a good reason to play good, we’re all for it,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “We’re all for our guys playing better. So whatever it takes we’re good with.”
Stafford didn’t play in the Cowboys’ retractable roof stadium in high school because it opened four years after he graduated. His Jones-owned “home” field was old Texas Stadium, and he remembers playing there as a 15-year-old sophomore.
Now, the 28-year-old Stafford credits those days for helping him handle being a walk-in starter as a top recruit for Georgia, and again after he was drafted by the Lions.
“Playing against Ennis and a bunch of really good football teams, a bunch of cameras on you after the game,” Stafford said. “I think that kind of puts you in the spotlight early and lets you understand what it’s all about.”
Now it’s about clinching the playoffs with his Lions.
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