While the Dallas Cowboys enjoyed an extended Thanksgiving break, the calendar flipped to December. It is not the Cowboys’ best month, but there is no way to avoid it.
For the Cowboys to accomplish their goals, they have to win in December.
“You have to relish these moments,” Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. “No matter what we did last year or the year before or a few years ago when we beat Philly and went to the playoffs — none of that matters; that’s all history. We’ve got an opportunity to accomplish everything that we want to accomplish.
“Our first goal was to make the playoffs, win the NFC East and continue to go on. We got a month to put it together, and it goes back to you have the resolve and the resiliency and the want. It’s just you’ve got to figure out a way.”
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The Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles are tied for the NFC East lead heading into the final quarter of the season with the two teams scheduled to play at AT&T Stadium in Week 17.
Dallas has had Decembers to forget over the past 16 seasons. Its only winning season in the 12th month of the year came last season when the Cowboys went 3-2. Yet even that ended in disappointment.
Dallas was 8-6 and riding a three-game winning streak as Christmas approached last year. It lost its final two games, including an elimination game in the regular-season finale against the Washington Redskins.
It marked the second consecutive season the Cowboys started 8-6 only to lose their final two games, including a win-or-go-home game. They lost the NFC East title to the New York Giants in 2011.
“We didn’t play well enough in those games,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of the losses to end the last two seasons. “We played pretty darn well leading up to some of those games and didn’t play well enough in those [final] games. And you go back and look at it and say, ‘Why?’
“It’s a long time ago, but I can give you the down-by-down analysis as to why that we weren’t good enough and they were better. Typically, it has something to do with doing things that winning football teams do and not doing things that losing football teams do, and that’s usually the case every week in this league.”
The Cowboys are 25-41 in December games from 1997-2011, including 15-18 at home. They are 3-4 in regular-season games in January in that span.
Quarterback Tony Romo, who is 24-5 in November, is only 11-15 in December and 1-1 in regular-season games played in January.
“I think it’s real,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on KRLD-FM. “I don’t mean to be trite, but you can probably tie that to why we have had disappointments in December. In this time of the NFL, it’s hard to build up enough edge to play at that level during December, so you’d better be having your arrow going up rather than going down.”
Jones said losses in the regular-season finale each of the past two seasons count among his biggest disappointments in his 25 years as the team’s owner. He also expressed “disappointment” at the lack of playoff success with Romo as the Cowboys’ quarterback.
“We need to change that,” Jones said. “That was our goal this year. That should’ve been our goal this year. We’ve had some setbacks through some injuries but every other team does, too, and we’ve got a chance to do something about it this year.”
This year’s team isn’t last year’s team. Or the 2011 team. Or the 1997 team. Garrett reminds his players of that often, and the players repeat the mantra.
It is a “new team and a new year,” as Jason Hatcher reminded reporters Tuesday.
But to make it to New Year’s, these Cowboys will have to do something those Cowboys couldn’t do.
“Every game is like a playoff game, man,” Hatcher said. “We control our own destiny. We can’t get into one of those situations where we’re looking for somebody to lose or something like that, so we’ve just got to take care of these next four games and go out there and win like we’re supposed to.”