Tony Romo communicates with his team while playing against the Minnesota Vikings.
It may only be Week 5 of the 2010 season, but the same could be said for the rematch Sunday.
When the schedule was released this summer, Cowboys at Vikings was immediately identified as a key early-season matchup that most figured would feature two star-powered teams playing for NFC supremacy. A month into the season, both clubs are 1-3 and treating this showdown as a must win.
"Both of us, it's no secret where our records are at right now. Neither one of us are happy about it," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "In my experience, typically in these kind of games, the most desperate team wins, the most desperate team that's clawing for a victory. Expect it to be contested tooth and nail."
Both teams are looking pretty desperate right about now.
The Cowboys entered the season with plenty of hype, as usual. It was only exacerbated by the fact that their new football shrine will host the Super Bowl in February.
Tony Romo to Miles Austin has become a big-play combination, but Romo has also thrown five interceptions and the Cowboys have all but abandoned the running game.
Dallas has already lost twice at home, to Chicago and Tennessee. Even in the wide-open NFC, there is a sense that neither team can afford to fall too much further behind.
"The window is always going to be open, and the mentality of playing well and doing the right things," Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. "But at the end of the day, you can't keep losing. If you keep losing, the window is going to be very narrow.
"There are a lot of good teams in this league. We've got to start now. The time is now."
The Vikings have plenty of issues themselves.
Brett Favre is starting to show his age, with tendinitis flaring up in his right elbow and the 41-year-old quarterback saying this week he would consider sitting out a game or two if the condition worsens. He is also in the middle of an NFL investigation into allegations that he sent lewd photos to a game-day hostess while both worked for the New York Jets in 2008.
Randy Moss has been in town for less than two weeks and is still working to get synchronized with a new offense and a new quarterback.
"I don't want to be a cancer to this offense, knowing I don't know what I'm doing, because I could get somebody really, really, really killed or really hurt out there, not knowing what to do," Moss said. "So I study every night. I take my playbook home. I just want to make sure I'm out there for the guys, because I know they're out there for me."
The Vikings also lost starting cornerback Cedric Griffin (knee) for the season on Monday night and signed veteran free agent Frank Walker on Wednesday, rushing him to get ready to face the Cowboys' second-ranked passing offense.
"Who would have thought both teams would be 1-3?" Favre said.
The Vikings are in the middle of a tough stretch that could define their season. After Dallas on Sunday, they head to Green Bay and New England. With the Bears off to a fast start at 4-1 in the division, the margin for error is getting slimmer by the week.
"Cowboys are a really good team," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "But a team with a whole lot of talent means nothing if it's not put together. And that's what's going on here (in Minnesota)."
The Vikings rolled over Dallas 34-3 in the playoffs last season, the Cowboys' second-worst postseason defeat. The victory put the Vikings into the NFC title game, where they lost in overtime at New Orleans.
Favre and the Vikings have yet to recreate that magic this season, but the veteran-laden locker room doesn't have to look far back for inspiration. The team started 1-3 in 2008 before winning nine of its final 12 games to win the NFC North.
"It's a sense of urgency, but at the same time, it can't be a sense of panic," Shiancoe said. "With panic comes disarray and confusion. You want to be calm, you want to be collected and just handle your business and see where the problems are and solve the problems."
Romo and the Cowboys are hoping for a much better showing this time around. He was sacked six times, lost two fumbles and threw an interception in the whipping in January and knows he can't afford a similar performance.
There's just too much riding on it.
"It's tough," Romo said. "They're good players combined with a good scheme, combined with a tough place to play. You stack it all together and it makes for a difficult place to go out and be perfect on every play. You just have to know going in that you're not going to be perfect on every play and try and minimize the bad plays and try and connect when the good plays are there."