SAN FRANCISCO -- It was just a simple question to Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, but considering his tunnel-vision approach, it drew a typical response.
Given how things snowballed on the team last year, how important is it to bounce back from last week's season-opening loss to the New York Jets and get a win Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers?
"Last year is last year," Garrett said. "Last week is last week and yesterday is yesterday. You have heard me say this before and I believe it from the bottom of my heart. It's what the players hear from me and our coaching staff over and over again. Control what you can control. That is today. That is your practice today, your meeting today. That is your walk-through today. That is the process we go through in our preparations.
"I think if you spend too much time concerning yourself with what happened last year or yesterday or last week you are going to prevent yourself from being your best in the upcoming challenges. We certainly have one this week against San Francisco."
You might as well have punched play on a recorded message. It has been played in Garrett's head since his days growing up with a football-coach dad, a former Cowboys scout, and repeated countless times during a calculated 14-year career as a backup quarterback in the NFL and now is being put into practice as a head coach.
It's what he is supposed to say.
It's what he has to say.
Putting it in practice is easier said than done, especially for a team with fresh bad memories, bitter feelings and open wounds from a 6-10 record in 2010.
Last year, a Cowboys team with more experience and much higher expectations suffered a dramatic setback in the season opener against the Washington Redskins and seemingly couldn't recover.
The Cowboys fell to 0-2 with a loss to the Chicago Bears and even a victory against the Houston Texans in Week 3 couldn't sway the downward momentum as the Cowboys lost seven of their first eight games, resulting in a midseason coaching change and a 6-10 finish.
While Garrett is conditioned to forget last year, his players and even his owner aren't automatically so inclined.
They can't deny the human element of needing a victory to put that "here we go again" mentality to rest for good based on what happened last week as well as last year.
"We, as I said, had a chance to get a prize in New York," owner Jerry Jones said. "I'm probably the last one to get by it, but we have got to get it off our minds. Consequently, we all know that based on what happened last year, we need to get a better start. That means we have to win, so it's important."
It's important not just because of last week or last year; it's important if the team truly hopes to make something out of this season."
The second game is too early to be identified as a must-win, but since 1978, only 11.6 percent of the teams that opened the season 0-2 have made the playoffs.
Only once in seven instances have the Cowboys climbed out of a 0-2 hole to make the playoffs, and that was in the 1993 season, when they won the Super Bowl.
Of course that team had won the Super Bowl the year before, featured future Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, and was part of dynasty that won three Super Bowls in the 1990s.
The Cowboys have had only one playoff win since 1996.
"I think we're a confident group that knows we're a good team,"tight end Jason Witten said. "Winning can help a lot."
Considering what happened last year and how the Cowboys lost against the Jets -- blowing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead, thanks to two turnovers and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown -- it could also be a matter of the Cowboys needing to learn how to win.
"Making plays at the end and finishing, that's learning how to win," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "We have a lot of football to be played. The only thing that creeps into my head is, let's go watch this film, let's learn from our mistakes, and let's get out there and get better from it."
That's certainly the attitude that quarterback Tony Romo is taking. His fumble and interception in the final 10 minutes keyed the loss to the Jets. It was his first game back since missing the final 10 games in 2010 with a fractured collarbone and now gives him a 1-6 record in his past seven games.
"It's important [to get a win]," Romo said. "The story right now is obviously about the way the game finished last week. As we move on into the season, that will change, and it's up to us to go out and make a different story, and we're going to do that. This week, we're ready to go."
Clarence E. Hill Jr.