At this time last year, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was inside the media room at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia trying to figure out how his team wound up on the wrong end of a devastating 44-6 defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles that eliminated them from the playoffs.
"I've got to play better and the team's has to play better," Romo said at the time.
This year there would be no December swoons or the Cowboys having to explain why they're not in the postseason. Amidst all the naysayers and experts who were expecting another late season Dallas choke, the Cowboys (11-5) finished the regular season on a strong note, winning their last three games to win their second NFC Eastern Division title in three years.
After losing to the New York Giants and San Diego Chargers to open the month of December, Romo said the team simply focused on getting better with each game and not dwelling upon the losses. That idea paid off in their last three games with wins over the New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins and the Eagles.
"It's just about improvement and I think for us that's the been the process," Romo said. "For me, the wins will take care of itself if you continue to get better and you continue to reach your potential as an individual and as a unit. I think our unit and us individually is slowly starting to improve and I think that's been the process throughout the whole year and we're slowly on a steady climb and that's exciting to see."
The Cowboys got a small measure of revenge over the Eagles with a 24-0 shutout. While the win garnered the Boys a division title, Sunday's win won't mean anything unless they beat the Eagles for a third time in next Saturday's NFC Wildcard Game at Cowboys Stadium.
"We're not on a whole revenge tip, trying to get back at somebody, we're just trying to win games and stay focused on our goals," said defensive lineman Jay Ratliff. "We have one goal, we're all focused on it and nothing's going to take our eyes off that prize. We have to go out here and get ready for next week."
The next big hurdle for Dallas is to put together a run in January and do something the franchise hasn't done since 1996 : Win a playoff game. That's the other 500-pound gorilla the Cowboys have to knock off and once again the Birds are standing in their way.
What will make Saturday's game against the Eagles complicated is the notion that it's hard to beat a three times in the season.
"This team that we beat today is a very good football team regardless of what took place (Sunday) and we know that we're going to have to play better next week in order to beat them," said Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears. "I guarantee that when we line down next week and we start practicing that we pitched a shut out won't be on anybody's minds."
Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking said shutting down the Eagles explosive offense is going to be even more difficult when the two teams lock horns on Saturday. He expects Eagles head coach Andy Reid to come up with attack to create big plays against the Dallas defense.
"We're going to have our work cut out for us," Brooking said. "They're going to be looking at this film. Coach Reid hasn't had the success that he's had there because he doesn't make adjustments and he'll break down this film and I know that we're going their best shot next week.
"The key for us, especially playing against these guys, is not allowing that big play."
Brooking said the Cowboys, who recorded back to back shutouts for the first time in team history, don't even have the luxury of celebrating and enjoying their fruits of their NFC East title.
"We got a hat," Brooking said. "Winning this division is great because I think this is one of the toughest divisions. I don't want to take away from what we've accomplished because I think we did some great things this year, but we gotta hat. I want a ring, I want a trophy for our body of work. That's what our goals are."