Although they got the win last week against the Minnesota Vikings, the Dallas Cowboys didn’t look like the who’d won 10-straight games going in. The offense sputtered more than any other week since the season opener.
The performance raised concerns that the Cowboys might headed into the dreaded December decline. There is a prevailing notion among Dallas fans and the nation as a whole that the Cowboys play their worst football at the end of the year.
I thought it would be a good idea to look back on the team’s late-season history during Jason Garrett’s coaching tenure. How true is it that the Cowboys’ level of play drops after Thanksgiving?
After the win over Minnesota, Garrett has a 14-15 record in regular season games played after Thanksgiving. That alone says that the Cowboys aren’t horrible at the end of the year, but they certainly aren’t above average.
Each December is its own story, though. How many of those games has a backup quarterback played? How many games were inconsequential due to having clinched or been eliminated from the playoffs?
We’ll get a much more accurate impression of the Cowboys’ late-season record if we look at each season separately.
2010 – 3-2 post-Thanksgiving (5-3 overall)
This was the year that Jason Garrett took over as interim head coach after Wade Phillips’ firing. He went 5-3 over that stretch despite Jon Kitna, and not Tony Romo, starting at quarterback in all those games.
The Cowboys’ three late wins this year were not overly impressive. The best win was an overtime victory over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in their stadium. Another was against Washington, who was having a bad season of their own. The final win came against the Eagles, but Philly was resting their starters after having already clinched the NFC East.
2011 – 1-4 post-Thanksgiving (8-8 overall)
This was the season that helped create the entire December narrative for the Cowboys. They were 7-4 after beating the Miami Dolphins on Thanksgiving and would only win more game, missing the playoffs in deplorable fashion.
Three of the four losses came were with Tony Romo under center. In Week 16, Romo injured his hand on the first drive against Philadelphia and Stephen McGee played the rest of the way.
2012 – 3-2 post-Thanksgiving (8-8 overall)
The Cowboys were 5-6 going into December this season, so they actually improved their record overall. However, they ultimately failed when it mattered most.
After three-straight wins the Cowboys were 8-6 and contending for the division title. They lost in overtime to the Saints and then headed to Washington for a winner-take-all game for the division title. Tony Romo three three interceptions as they fell 28-14, giving up the NFC East and missing the playoffs.
2013 – 1-3 post-Thanksgiving (8-8 overall)
Another bad December performance, but not as ugly as 2011. One of the losses comes with a major asterisk.
Once again, the Cowboys were in a Week 17 game for the division title. This time it was against the Eagles, but Tony Romo wasn’t there to try and redeem himself. Kyle Orton was the starter after Romo had back surgery earlier in the week, and the Cowboys ultimately fell short of the playoffs yet again.
2014 – 4-0 post-Thanksgiving (12-4 overall)
Not much to complain about here, obviously. The Cowboys kept right on winning and actually increased their performance level overall. Despite playing three games on the road, Dallas improved their average margin of victory from 8.4 points in their first eight wins to 21.5 in their last four games.
2015 – 1-4 post-Thanksgiving (4-12 overall)
In a season where everything went wrong for Dallas, would would December be any different? Ironically, despite the losses, they may have played their best football overall during these final games.
Though it didn’t produce any wins, switching to Kellen Moore at quarterback had the offense looking more fluid and functional than at any other point with Brandon Weeden or Matt Cassel.
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So is it true that the Cowboys suck in December?
Depending on what you want to focus on, you can make a case either way. They’ve had some rough times, especially from 2011-2013. But the 2014 season showed that this team can carry momentum right on through December and even elevate their level of play.
There is plenty of reason for optimism. This 2016 iteration of the Cowboys is on the longest winning streak in franchise history. They’re taking more momentum into the final stretch than any Garrett-coached team has, even that 2014 bunch.
It’s also important to consider who’s at quarterback. Since Garrett became the head coach, Romo’s post-Thanksgiving record is just 9-7 in games where he took the entirety or majority of snaps. That’s a far cry from his usual record as a starting quarterback.
Dak Prescott got the win last week and was a key reason for it. Despite not putting up big numbers, he made plays with his feet and avoided throwing any interceptions. His kept the team in the game with timely plays and led them on the escape path to victory.
Last week was a legitimate cause for concern if you know the team’s December history. Even though Dak kept his head up and the team won, the fumbles and penalties were reminiscent of times we’d all like to forget.
Tomorrow night’s showdown against the New York Giants is the most important game left on the Cowboys’ regular season schedule. They can clinch the division with a win and perhaps even a first-round bye and home field advantage depending on other games. It could, effectively, be their season finale if everything goes right.
With nine full days of rest since Minnesota, the Cowboys will have no excuses for laying an egg. They can play very well and lose; the Giants are a quality team and have the passing weapons to exploit Dallas’ defensive problems.
However, if the Cowboys have another weak of anemic offense and costly mistakes, it’s going to bring the December narrative right back to the headlines. It will become a leading question in every press conference and interview as they finish out the season. Jason gGa
Of course, Dallas has already clinched a playoff spot. There’s only so much that the negativity can do to hurt them.
Still, you want your team feeling good about itself headed into the postseason. Winning against the Giants and keeping their foot on the neck of their remaining opponents is the kind of a confidence builder that all teams want, and that this youth-led team greatly needs.