The Dallas Cowboys said this time it was going to be different.
This was a different team and a different year. And they would avoid their past December doldrums.
Well, the Cowboys still have a chance to alter their all-too familiar December narrative.
But so far the only difference is a blowout loss to start the month, rather than one to end their season.
In what was the coldest regular-season game in team history — 8 degrees at kickoff, including a minus-9 wind chill — the Chicago Bears put the Cowboys season and possible playoffs hopes in a virtual deep freeze with a 45-28 blowout Monday night before a crowd of 56,644 at Soldier Field.
After taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession, the Cowboys watched the Bears score 42 of the next 49 points.
Quarterback Josh McCown had his way with an overmatched pass defense that came into the game ranked 31st in the league.
McCown, starting for the injured Jay Cutler, completed 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards and four touchdown in what was easily the best game of his career. He also had a rushing touchdown.
Receivers Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall proved too big for the undersized defensive backs, combining for 11 receptions for 184 yards and one touchdown.
How dominant were the Bears on offense?
They had 23 plays of 10 yards or more passing and running to completely frustrate the Cowboys. And they scored on eight straight possessions before the final kneel down drive.
“We didn’t do a very good job of making any stops. That limited our opportunities on offense,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “It’s a team loss. We didn’t do enough on offense and we didn’t do enough on special teams.”
The Cowboys (7-6) saw their two-game winning streak come to an end, as they dropped one game behind the NFC-East leading Philadelphia Eagles (8-5) with three games to play.
It almost certainly means the Cowboys have to win out to win the division and avoid missing the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season.
The Cowboys play host to Green Bay on Sunday before playing at the Washington Redskins and then closing with a possible winner-take-all battle for the division title and the playoffs against the Eagles in the season finale on Dec 29.
“We have to go back to work and get ready for the next challenge,” Garrett said. “The worst thing we can do is have a hangover.”
It all brings into question the team’s well-chronicled December doldrums. The Cowboys have had a winning record in the month of December just once since 1997 and they are 11-16 in December since this 2006.
That poor record is the foundation for the team winning just one playoff game since 1997.
They entered the game with plans of reversing that trend and appeared to be ready to carry out the plan on the opening possession.
Relying heavily on the run to combat the cold and attack a run defense that ranked last in the league, they featured running back DeMarco Murray on a 12-play, 72-yard scoring drive.
Murray had six carries for 52 yards, setting up a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tony Romo to receiver Dez Bryant.
Murray finished the game with 18 carries for 146 yards, but the Cowboys offense wasn’t good enough to offset the Bears’ dominant attack.
Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant said he was surprised and frustrated by the team's performance.
"Shocked. Shocked. There's nothing else to say," Bryant said.
Romo completed 11 of 20 passes for 104 yards and three touchdowns.
But the Cowboys weren’t dominant. They weren’t efficient and they didn’t have many chances with the ball because the defense couldn’t get the Bears off the field.
Running back Matt Forte complemented McCown with 102 yards on the ground as the Bears amassed 490 total yards and 33 first downs.
The turning point in the game came with 5 minutes left in the second quarter after the Cowboys tied the score 14-14 on a 10-yard pass from Romo to tight end Jason Witten.
The Bears kicked a 27-yard field goal to make the score 17-14.
And after the Cowboys were forced to punt, McCown got the ball back with 47 seconds left in the half. He took 37 seconds to go 60 yards, completing passes of 9 yards to Forte, 7 yards to Jeffery, 19 yards to Marshall before a perfect 25-yard touchdown pass to Jeffery on the corner of the end zone over cornerback B. W. Webb and safety Jeff Heath.
The Bears went on to score 28 unanswered points before the Cowboys got a couple of scores in the fourth quarter.
"Now, we need to win a game," owner Jerry Jones said. "We need to win next week, but the December thing is not a big factor in the things I need to look at. But make no mistake about it, we were outplayed tonight."