(SportsNetwork.com) - December looms for the Dallas Cowboys.
The 'Boys are in the top spot in the NFC East as the calendar turns toward
Christmas and now all they have to do is finish things, starting Monday night
in Chicago where Dallas faces off with a Bears team minus its leaders on both
offense and defense, quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs.
Here's the problem, though. Dallas is just 13-17 in the month of December
since Tony Romo took over as the team's starting quarterback in 2006, and Romo
himself is 11-15 as a starter with some high-profile missteps.
"We've always known that what they remember is what you do in December,"
Cowboys owner and GM Jerry Jones said this week when talking about his team's
troubles in December. "We need to change that. That was our goal this year.
And we've got a chance to do something about it this year."
A 3-1 November has the Cowboys tied with Philadelphia in the NFC East but the
Cowboys currently hold the tie breaker thanks to a 17-3 win in Philadelphia
back on Oct. 20 and a perfect 4-0 division mark. A Week 17 matchup with the
Eagles in Dallas still remains on the schedule, however.
The Cowboys have had extra time to prepare for Chicago after coming back to
win their annual Thanksgiving Day affair. Romo threw for 225 yards and a
score on Turkey Day this year, while DeMarco Murray joined elite company with
his career-best three-touchdown performance, as Dallas took down Oakland,
Murray joined Emmitt Smith as the only Cowboys running backs to accumulate
three rushing touchdowns on Thanksgiving Day, totaling 63 yards on 17 carries.
Romo completed 23-of-32 passes, including a third-quarter TD pass to Dez
Bryant, who racked up 61 yards on seven receptions. Lance Dunbar totaled 82
yards on 12 attempts before leaving the game late with a left knee injury.
"We did start slow, but it's getting to that point where there is no panic
anymore," said Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr.
The Bears weren't so lucky in Week 13, losing a tough 23-20 overtime decision
to NFC North-rival Minnesota when Blair Walsh hit a 34-yard field goal
with 1:43 left in the extra frame.
Alshon Jeffery broke his own team record with 249 receiving yards on 12
catches -- two of which went for touchdowns -- for the Bears, who have
dropped their past two games and are a full game behind the Detroit Lions for
the top spot in the division, a predicament made even worse by the fact that
the Lions have already swept the Bears this season.
"We've got to put up a win in the win column," quarterback Josh McCown
said. "The standings don't matter if you don't win football games."
McCown was 23-for-36 for 355 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings,
while Matt Forte carried the ball 23 times for 120 yards for Chicago.
"I was really proud of the effort in all three phases of the game," said
Chicago head coach Marc Trestman. "But as hard as we played, we didn't play
hard enough to win. We just didn't get it done."
Trestman took plenty of heat for a strange decision in overtime, deciding to
let the ever-reliable Robbie Gould attempt a potential game-winning 47-yard
field goal attempt on second down. Gould missed his chance wide right and the
Vikings went the other way for the win.
"I didn't do it from an analytics standpoint. I did it from having been around
Robbie the entire year and knowing how he kicks the ball," Trestman said of
Gould, whose field goal percentage of 85.8 ranks third-highest in NFL history
dating back to 1938.
Dallas leads its all-time series with the Bears by a slim 11-10 margin but the
Bears have won the last two meetings, including a 34-18 win in Dallas back on
Oct. 1, 2012 when the defense recorded five interceptions, with two returned
for TDs (by Briggs and Charles Tillman, two players who won't be available in
this one for Chicago.)
The teams haven't met in the Second City since a Sept. 23, 2007 affair won
by the Cowboys 34-10.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
McCown's solid play has masked any desire to push Cutler back too quickly from
his latest problem, a balky left ankle. McCown has been rock solid in six
games (four starts,) completing 65.2 percent of his passes for 1,462 yards
with nine touchdowns against one interception while compiling a 103.6 rating,
far better than Cutler's 88.4.
All that said though the Bears clearly miss Cutler's ability to extend plays
and make something out of nothing, a trait McCown really does not possess.
Still McCown has been able to get the football to the Bears' dynamic receiving
duo of Brandon Marshall and Jeffery, whose 2,099 combined receiving yards are
the most of any duo in the NFL entering Week 14.
Those two, along with tight end Martellus Bennett, who has 48 catches for 545
yards and five TDs, could be an untenable matchup for a Dallas secondary
allowing 294.9 yards a game through the air, second-worst in the NFL.
Marshall, though, has been impressed by Carr, Dallas' best defensive back.
"I don't like playing against Brandon Carr," Marshall said. "He presents a lot
of tough challenges throughout a game. You'll notice he changes up his game
when he plays against bigger receivers. He's strong. He's physical. He plays
that way against guys like myself. I absolutely hate the matchup. It's like
playing chess out there with him. Every single play is a battle. He just makes
you work so hard."
The Cowboys defense also figures to get a boost from the return of middle
linebacker Sean Lee, perhaps the unit's best all-around player, who has missed
the last two weeks with a strained hamstring.
The Bears' defense has remained opportunistic with 15 interceptions, but the
team's run-stopping ability is virtually non-existent. Chicago is giving up
205.2 rushing yards a contest and nearly six yards a clip on every run over
its past six games.
That poor play basically coincides with the loss of Briggs to a shoulder
injury and veteran middle linebacker DJ Williams to a season-ending pectoral
Dallas, though, has an offense heavily tilted toward the pass to begin with
and will be without Dunbar, who is expected to miss the rest of the season
after being diagnosed with a torn posterior lateral corner in his knee.
"There's a whole lot of football to be played," Trestman said. "We've got to
start on Monday night and do that. That was the message: Let's worry about
what we can control and that's being at our best on Monday night against the
This game will also mark the first time Bears defensive tackle Jeremiah
Ratliff, who was signed Nov. 6, will face his former team.
Ratliff, a four-time Pro Bowler in Dallas when he called himself Jay, left
North Texas on bad terms. He never played a down for the Cowboys after signing
a $40 million extension, with $18 million of that guaranteed, due to a groin
"To me it's just another game," Ratliff said Thursday after practice. "As they
say, they're moving on, so have I, and that's the end of it."
A trend is a trend until it stops being a trend and the Cowboys December
struggles aren't going away until Dallas makes them go away. This is a perfect
opportunity to start that process on the road in a hostile environment with
potential weather issues.
A Bears team with Cutler, Briggs and Tillman beats the Cowboys in this spot
but one without its key playmakers simply can't be allowed.
"You hear me say this all the time, but we're focused on winning one game,"
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "We want to play one good ballgame. That's
really what we're focused on. We'll let everyone else figure out what the
history of the world is."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cowboys 21, Bears 16
The Sports Network