This December, the pressure will be on the Dallas Cowboys and QB Tony Romo to not go into their usual end of season “Swoon”
When most people think of the month of December, they think of spending the holidays with their friends and family. But lately in Dallas, the last month of the year has meant that it is time for a “Swoon” by the Cowboys. Since 2006, when quarterback Tony Romo took over as the Cowboys starter, much to the chagrine of fans and team owner Jerry Jones, Dallas’ record in December is 5-8 in the regular season. The Cowboys also have been outscored 314 to 239 in those 13 regular games during the month. To even further shine a spotlight on their end of season futulity, the Cowboys are 0-2 in the playoffs the last three years and have not won a playoff game since 1996.
I won’t rehash their woes since 1996, but the past 3 years are present a strong case that the Cowboys continually have the holiday blues. From 2006 to 2008, the Cowboys won three straight Thanksgiving games and came into the month of December with a winning records (8-3 in 2006, 11-1 in 2007, and 8-4 in 2008) only to crush their high expectations. To say the least, the month of December has been a disaster filled with untimely turnovers and losses to teams out of contention at the time that games were played (Lost to the Detroit Lions, record of 2-13 at the time, by the score 39-31 in Week 17 of 2006 and the Philadelphia Eagles, record of 6-8 at the time, by the score 10-6 in Week 15 of 2007).
In 2006, the Cowboys looked to be a strong contender to win the NFC East, however they finshed December with a record of 2-3 including two straight losses to the Eagles (Week 16 by a score of 23-7) and Lions (Week 17 by a score 39-31) to end the season. The “swoon” sent Dallas from a potential division winner to a 9-7 wildcard road team. Of course everyone knows that the Cowboys’ 2006 wildcard playoff game with the Seattle Seahawks ended with Romo fumbling a potential game-winning field goal snap causing the Cowboys to lose 21-20 in a true heartbreaker to then head coach Bill Parcells.
In 2007, the Cowboys were on top of the NFL with a record of 11-1 entering December and many were lauding new head coach Wade Phillips, receiver Terrell Owens, and Romo as a potential Super Bowl contender. However a 2-2 record in the season’s final month including a Week 15 loss to the Eagles (lost 10-6 to a down Birds squad that finished the year at 8-8) and a Week 17 loss to the Washington Redskins (lost 27-6) that set the stage for playoff disaster. After a bye week off, the overconfident Cowboys hosted the NY Giants (10-6 record) who snuck into the playoff as a wildcard. However the eventual Super Bowl champion G-Men pounded the Cowboys (Romo sacked 3 times) on their way to a comeback 21-17 win in Texas Stadium.
The 2008 season’s December swoon may have been the worst yet for the Cowboys. Entering the last month of the season, Dallas had a record of 8-4 and were in the hunt for the NFC East division title. However a record of 1-3 in December left no presents under the tree and no playoffs for the Cowboys. You hate to throw the term “Choke” around in NFL circles, as there is always the “Any Given Sunday” mentality throughout most of the league, but plain and simple the Cowboys folded at the end o f the 2008 season. You cannot blame them for losing a close road game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers in Week 14 by a score 20-13. However their defeat in Week 17 to the Philadelphia Eagles showed their lack of “urgency” in the month of December.
After the Tampa Bay Bucs and Chicago Bears both lost earlier in the day to help the Eagles playoff chances, the stage was set for a “Win and Your In” regualr season finale between the Cowboys (then 9-6) and the Eagles (then 8-6-1) at 4:00 PM in Lincoln Financial Field. Playing with more urgency and purpose, the Eagles fueled by five turnovers pummeled the overrated Cowboys 44-6. The catalyst of the Cowboys demise was Romo as “Mr. September” was harassed into producing two turnovers (1 INT and 1 Fumble) including a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. The Cowboys finished the season leading the NFL in penalties and finished 30th in turnover margin. And to make matters even worse, the Cowboys continued to fight amongst themselves on the sidelines in the loss (T.O and the gang). Plus there was alledgely a skirmish between Cowboys FB Deon Anderson and LT Flozell Adams on the flight home from Philadelphia.
The pressure to win in December and beyond in 2009 will most assuredly be on Romo and head coach Wade Phillips — overall record as Cowboys head coach of 30-13 through the first 12 weeks of the 2009 season. There is a perception by some that the Cowboys lack of focus at the end of the season is due to Phillips’ “player’s coach” mentality, so you know he is definitely on the hot seat with Cowboys management.
Romo (signed a six-year, $67.5 million contract extension with $30 million guaranteed in ‘08) is also on the hot seat right along with Phillips and supposed up-and-coming offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. The Cowboys quarterback has had great success in the earlier months of the season (record of 30-7 as a starter from September – November since his first start in Week 8 of 2006), but at the end of regular season usually “What can go wrong, Does go wrong” for Romo – record of 5-10 in December and January including an 0-2 record in the playoffs.
Romo also has been the target of criticism at the end of the year, not just for his well-publicized trip to Cabo, Mexico with then girlfriend Jessica Simpson during the playoff bye week in 2007. But also for his untimely turnovers in games after November – passing numbers of 297-510, 58.2%, 3385 yards, 15 TDs, 20 INTs in 17 games including the playoffs. Simpson is long gone, so now Romo should have no excuses and should answer the bell this December
So with Sunday’s game at Meadows versus the NY Giants, it is “See you in December” time for the Cowboys and you know Jerry Jones is hungry for a playoff winner on the field of his new $1. 15 billion dollar stadium. In the Cowboys remining five games in 2009, everyone in the team’s organization will be under the gun to win. Curently the Dallas Cowboys (8-3) have a 1-game lead over the Eagles (7-4) in the race for the NFC East title. After feasting on the lowly Raiders on Thanksgiving, the Dallas’ next five games should be a lot tougher (@NYG, SD, @NO, @WAS, and PHI) so now the real fun should start in Big D.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)