When the calendar flipped to December on Monday, the most veteran of Dallas Cowboys players knew what was coming:
Questions about the team’s play in the month the past 18 seasons.
“Yeah,” tight end Jason Witten said when asked if he was tired of the December questions, “but until you change it, they’re going to continue to happen. That’s why I think we’re all [eager] to change the outcome of it.”
The Cowboys have only three winning records in December since their last Super Bowl to end the 1995 season. They are 29-44 in the month of December during that span.
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It is traditionally the month the Cowboys’ playoff hopes die.
In the past 12 Decembers, the Cowboys have only one winning record. They went 3-2 in 2012. Even that wasn’t enough to get them in the playoffs as they lost to the Washington Redskins in a win-or-go-home game to end the season.
But the Cowboys insist this is a “different team.” It’s a refrain they have repeated all week.
“I remember when I was in college, they kept talking about how we haven’t beaten this team in 25 years,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We haven’t beaten them on the road since 1968. I don’t want to give away my age, but I was 2 years old [in 1968]. To me, it doesn’t have a lot to do with this football team. What has to do with this football team is how we come back from that game the other day. Learn from it, get better from it, get back to work today and then try to go win one more game.”
Tony Romo’s career passing stats in the month aren’t as good as some other months. But they aren’t bad — a 62.4 completion percentage, an average of 253 yards per game, 48 touchdowns, 27 interceptions and an 89.7 passer rating.
Yet, Romo’s record as a starting quarterback in December is only 12-17.
“Yeah we don’t talk about it,” Romo said. “Each season is a new football team. You’re going to write your own story each year with that football team. I’ve said a long time, if your team is good enough, you’re going to get stops, and you’re going to be able to move the ball and go score; you’re going to be a good team in December. And if it’s hard to get stops, and it’s hard to score, it’s probably going to be a tough year.”
The Cowboys are better positioned heading into this December’s first game than they were in most other recent Decembers. They also seem better equipped to handle everything that comes with playing in the last month of the season.
The Cowboys are 8-4, only one victory from ending three consecutive seasons of 8-8. They play three of their final four games on the road, where they are 5-0 this season.
The Cowboys are 3 1/2-point favorites over Thursday night’s opponent, the Chicago Bears (5-7), and they probably will take the field as the favorite in the season finale against the Washington Redskins (3-9).
In between are games against the Philadelphia Eagles (9-3) and the Indianapolis Colts (8-4).
The website makenflplayoffs.com gives the Cowboys a 58.2 percent chance of making the postseason.
“That’s the opportunity that we have, to go out and get into the playoffs,” receiver Dez Bryant said. “… It’s a great opportunity to get to where we want to go. I think we all understand that. We’re just going to continue to keep working hard and try to get better and win out in December.”
The Cowboys have committed to the run this season, with DeMarco Murray leading the league in rushing. So they have a key element to winning the month.
Now, they just have to do it.
“I think you never know until you go through it,” Witten said. “I do think those past experiences, I think we’re all better because of that. As tough as they were, it’s caused us to self-reflect and look at it and evaluate.
“We’re coming up short in December like that, but I do think you look at our team being relatively healthy, and the way we play, our style of play, I think it sets up good.
“But ultimately you’ve got to go do it and play your best football. I don’t know that that makes it any easier, but I do think our team kind of understands and is set up good to take advantage of this opportunity.”