Coach Jason Garrett refuses to look at the Dallas Cowboys’ past December failures as a teaching tool for what lies before them over the final four games of the season, starting Thursday in Chicago.
Owner Jerry Jones says it’s the obvious message.
The Cowboys (8-4) are one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles (9-3) in the NFC East with four games to play. If the playoffs started today, the Cowboys would lose a three-way tie for the two wild-card spots to the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions because of a poorer conference record.
To make the playoffs, the Cowboys need to finish strong — something they have consistently failed do since 1997, going 27-43 in the month of December since then. The Cowboys are 12-17 in December since Tony Romo took over as starting quarterback in 2006.
More pointedly, the Cowboys missed the playoffs in each of the past three years because of poor finishes, including losses in win-or-go-home games in the season finale each year, causing them to finish with three consecutive 8-8 campaigns.
“All you got to do and say is ‘Let’s remind ourselves what we have done the last three years. We have been 8-8.’ We have won eight games right now. Hello? Lets go!,” Jones said on his radio show on KRLD-FM.
Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent didn’t hesitate when asked if he remembered the last time he played in an NFL game.
“I’m pretty sure it’s almost two years,” Brent said Tuesday. “Yeah, it has been exactly two years.”
Indeed it was.
Brent’s last game was Dec. 2, 2012 — a 38-33 Cowboys’ victory against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Less than a week later, he was involved in fatal car crash that killed teammate and best friend Jerry Brown. Brent, who was driving while intoxicated, was deactivated for the final four games of the season.
He sat out 2013 while awaiting trail before being convicted of vehicular manslaughter in January and sentenced to 10 years probation and 180 days in jail.
Brent, however, is remaining patient. He has dropped weight and continued to get in shape since returning to practice with the team five weeks ago.
“I want to get in there and help our team in any way, shape or form I can, but we also didn’t get to 8-4 by accident,” Brent said. “The guys that are in there do a hell of a job from week to week.”
In losing three of the past five games, the Cowboys have seemingly been exposed on defense as the weak link every one expected them to be before the season.
They have trouble getting to the quarterback. They give up too many big plays on the ground and through the air.
And they are no longer getting off the field on third down, particularly after being torched for a season-high 464 yards in a 33-10 blowout loss to Philadelphia on Thanksgiving.
“We’re still confident,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “Sometimes it’s good to get ... a good old fashioned butt-kicking to get you going again. It’s back to the drawing board.”