Why The Dallas Cowboys Were Fighting Against History In The NFL Play-Offs

Super Bowl LI ended with an unbelievable win for the New England Patriots as they completed a record-breaking comeback victory over Atlanta Falcons in Houston last night. The Patriots were 25 points down in the 3rd quarter but managed to tie the game and take a Super Bowl to overtime for the first time ever. The Patriots were brilliant for the majority of the season but most importantly, produced when it mattered in the play-offs.

Back in week 13 of the NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys became the first team to qualify for the play-offs and a lot of experts and fans alike predicted that they could go all the way to the Super Bowl. Leading the way for them was the rookie backfield duo, quarterback (QB) Dak Prescott and running back (RB) Ezekiel Elliott.

However, despite heading into the play-offs as the NFC’s number one seed with a 13-3 record – with a first round bye and home-field advantage to boot – the Cowboys came unstuck against the Green Bay Packers in their first play-off game. The Packers won an enthralling encounter with the last kick of the game with Mason Crosby’s field goal as time expired giving his side a 34-31 victory.

Although they were heavily fancied heading into the play-offs on the back of such an impressive regular season showing – particularly after such consistent performances from their backfield rookies – should we have foreseen the Cowboys’ early demise in the play-offs? TSZ takes a look back through the Super Bowl era.

  • Prescott became only the 21st rookie QB to have started an NFL play-off game in the Super Bowl era.
  • Nine of the 21 rookie QBs who started a play-off game picked up a victory (42.9%).
  • Two of those QBs were guaranteed a win as they faced off against another rookie QB – Andy Dalton (Bengals) vs T.J. Yates (Texans) in the 2011 season and Russell Wilson (Seahawks) vs Robert Griffin III (Redskins) the following season.
  • Only two (22.2%) of the rookie QBs to win a play-off game won a second (Mark Sanchez’ Jets in 2009 and Joe Flacco’s Ravens in 2008).
  • Rookie QBs’ play-off record is a combined 11-21, a winning percentage of 34.4%.

The number of rookie QBs to win a Super Bowl? Zero. The number of rookie QBs to even start a game in the Super Bowl? Zero. That’s right – no rookie QB has ever led his team to the Super Bowl in the 50 years since its inception. Do the RBs fare much better in the season-ending game?

We trawled through the history books to check every single run that has occurred in a Super Bowl which culminated in the above list. We only included those officially classed as RBs so those rookies in other positions who may have taken a carry are excluded from the list.

  • There have been 28 rookie RBs to appear in Super Bowls.
  • The rookies have a record of 15-13 in Super Bowls, a winning record of 53.6%.
  • 25 (89.3%) of the rookie RBs appeared in more than half of their team’s games throughout the season (C.J. Anderson in 2013, LaMichael James in 2012 and James Starks in 2010 were the ones that didn’t).
  • Despite that, 12 rookie RBs logged single-figure carries in the Super Bowl (42.9%).
  • 11 of the rookie RBs had five carries or under in the Super Bowl (39.3%).
  • Only three (10.7%) rookie RBs carried the ball 20 times or more in the Super Bowl – Jamal Lewis (27), Timmy Smith (22) and Ickey Woods (20).

As we can see, the rookie RBs have had much greater success compared to rookie QBs. Asking a rookie QB to lead a team to the play-offs has proven a difficult task, let alone making a Super Bowl or even winning it.

Whilst the combination of Prescott and Elliott played well in their only play-off game, history was against the Cowboys reaching the Super Bowl with the two rookies in the backfield, particularly with Prescott aiming to become the first rookie QB of all-time to reach a Super Bowl.

From 1966 to 1998, there were only seven rookie QBs to even make the play-offs but from 1999 to the current season, 14 rookie QBs have achieved the same feat. The trend of rookie QBs making the play-offs is on the rise – surely it can’t be too much longer until a 51-year-old record is broken and we see a rookie play-caller run out at a Super Bowl?