By Chris Murray
The Dallas Cowboys are 8-3 and in
first place in the NFC East, but the most important and for the last
couple of years, the most troubling part of their season--the month
of December--is on the horizon.
Since 1996, the Cowboys have not posted a winning record in December and January. They haven't won a playoff game since that time as well. It is the reason why fans and people who cover the team are looking Dallas's current record with a degree of skepticism.
"Our biggest thing is to string a couple of wins together," said Cowboys cornerback Terrence Newman. "Everybody knows the previous couple of years what December has been like. Every year can be different. Anytime you don't make it into the playoffs and don't win a playoff game you gotta look at it and say every year is going to different. The December thing is going to big issue for sure, we just gotta go out and keep playing football like we're capable of doing."
The Cowboys will not face any cupcakes in December 2009 with five games left. They will be facing a desperate New York Giants on the road. The G-men, who beat Dallas back in September, are reeling from a Thanksgiving Day loss to the Denver Broncos.
It doesn't get any easier for Dallas. In addition to the Giants, the Cowboys will face AFC West leader San Diego Chargers at home, the unbeaten New Orleans Saints on the road and close out the season against a pair of tough division rivals--the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles.
"We know what it is, I think everybody knows it's going to be tough," said tight end Jason Witten. "We know the challenge is there and what this team has done in the past. This team is really focused. A lot of guys have stepped up and taken advantage of opportunities. It's not going to be any eaiser. We've done all this work to get this point, we don't need to let it slip away."
For quarterback Tony Romo this is a chance for him to prove all his doubters wrong about his ability to play well when the season is on the line. He said the Cowboys have done a good job of staying focused on what's in front of them and not thinking about December back in September.
"For us though I know that's something people want to talk about," Romo said. "We'll be there. November, December, September, October...It's all the same to us and I know that.might be whatever is to certain people, but it's all about improving each time you're out there. If you do that consistently, December will take care of itself, January will take care of itself. You just need to be as good as you can be and if you're not good enough, then you're not good enough. You can't do it.
"But if you are good enough and you continue to improve and get better...then you can win those games when they count. That's what we're trying to do"
This is the point of the season that will decide not only decide the Cowboys playoff future, but quite possibly the future of head coach Wade Phillips if his team pulls another December swoon.
"We just have to keep on winning," Phillips said after the Cowboys over the Raiders. "All of them count.We've had a rough schedule all the way through. We've had a chance to win every game we've played. I feel good about that."
Coming into December, the Cowboys are striving to be the team that had that four-game winning streak that put them in first place. That means players like Miles Austin and Roy Williams are going to avoid the disappearing act they experienced in their loss. They're also going to have to bottle the effort that Felix Jones, Tashard Choice, and Marion Barber gave in their win over the Oakland Raiders.
The one thing that bodes well for Dallas in this critical month of December, is that their defense, led by DeMarcus Ware, has been playing well enough to keep them in games. In their last five games, the Cowboys have not allowed an opponent more than 17 points per game.
But none of those glowing statistics will mean anything unless the Cowboys play well over the next two months.
"It's going to be something that we're going to have to answer until we do better," Romo said. "Each game is a very reality show that we're going take part in to us it's our lives really."