December football is different in Jason Witten’s mind.
That’s when things get magnified. That’s when teams separate themselves. That’s when teams either get in peak form for a postseason run, or fall apart down the stretch.
The Dallas Cowboys, more times than not in Witten’s career, have fallen apart. The Cowboys have only two winning Decembers in Witten’s 14-year career – in 2012 they went 3-2 and in 2014 they went 4-0. Since the 1995 Super Bowl season, the Cowboys are 34-47 in December.
But this season has a different feel to it for Witten and the Cowboys, and the thought is there won’t be any ghosts of December’s past wreaking havoc in what has been a memorable season to date.
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“You certainly talk about what happens in December in pro football. It’s different,” Witten said. “That’s what our focus has to be on. This team has done a really good job of just, ‘All right that one is behind us.’
“That’s just how we approach it. I think there’s a lot of comfort in kinda eliminating all that clutter that exists and just go out there and play football. I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve had the success we’ve had so far.”
The Cowboys are in the midst of one of the best seasons in franchise history going into Thursday night’s game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. They are on the franchise’s first 10-game regular-season winning streak and boast a pair of rookies having MVP-caliber seasons in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Prescott and Elliott might be among the top reasons to feel that what has haunted the team in the past is irrelevant in the future. They’ve brought new life to the team and rejuvenated a fan base that hasn’t seen a Super Bowl team in 21 years.
“We’ve got, as it turns out, quite a bit to do here, but there is every bit of reason out there that we can get it done,” owner Jerry Jones said on his weekly 105.3 The Fan radio show on Tuesday. “I’m telling you. I can’t say enough about what these guys are doing, how they’re playing.”
With a win, the Cowboys could conceivably clinch a playoff berth by the end of the weekend if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose or tie, or if the Washington Redskins lose. The website, makenflplayoffs.com, gives the Cowboys more than a 99 percent chance of making the postseason.
But the key for the Cowboys is to be peaking once the postseason begins.
“Every game becomes more important as you go down the stretch,” Witten said. “I think the confidence and momentum that you get is important as you build on getting to play you best football. And I think everybody will tell you as postseason comes, that’s really a byproduct of the previous month. I know that’s the case for us as well.”
For the Cowboys, though, the focus will remain on going to work on a daily basis. This is a team that has bought into coach Jason Garrett’s message of “being great today.”
They don’t look too far ahead and have mastered the mundane of doing their best each day.
“As long as we just focus on what we are doing, we should be OK,” wide receiver Dez Bryant said. “We can’t look too far ahead. We have to stay in the moment. We have to stay in right now.”
Added safety Barry Church, who is expected to play for the first time in four weeks on Thursday: “Coach puts the mentality that the next game is all we are focused on. We are focused on the present.
“We know we can’t let up. It’s one game at a time. Hopefully we will get these victories.”