'Boys Getting Swagger Back

The Cowboys are 8-4 and riding a three-game winning streak.

They finally have their head above water after the struggles in the middle of the season and they actually see the finish line again.

The Cowboys are in sole possession of second place in the NFC East and they are tied with the Atlanta Falcons for the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC.

With four games left in a season that began with talk of the Super Bowl before turning to potentially being the most embarrassing team in franchise history, the Cowboys are right where they want to be.

They are back in the thick of the discussions for the playoffs and, more important, they are playing well and look like a team that deserves to be there.

Fittingly, however, these Cowboys, who have yet to accomplish anything and actually struggled early because they got too caught up in their own hope, are going to have to earn it. The Cowboys face arguably the toughest final stretch of anybody in the NFL with December games at Pittsburgh, home against the Giants and Ravens before ending the season at Philadelphia.

The Steelers (9-3) and Ravens (8-4) are first and second, respectively, in the AFC North. The Giants (11-1) are the defending Super Bowl champions and the best team in the NFL. The Eagles are still in the playoff chase and would like nothing more than for it all to come down to the final game in Philadelphia.

"I think everyone knows the importance of these last games down the stretch and know that we need to win out in order to get to the playoffs," Owens said. "There is not a whole lot to be said except to just go out there and play."

Adding spice to the December run is the Cowboys' own pitiful history of fading down the stretch.

The Cowboys have not had a winning record in December/January since 1996. In the past 11 seasons combined, they are 18-36, including five playoff losses.

If the Cowboys are to make a run this year, they will have to reverse their poor December history.

"The good thing is we have done it the past few games," cornerback Terence Newman said. "It gives us some momentum for the month of December because we haven't been great the last couple of Decembers. The thing we have to do is make sure what we did at the end of November definitely picks up in December ... so we can win these games and (get the) past December record off our back so we don't have to talk about it anymore.

"It's December for us and I think that all of us understand and we realize that our backs are against the wall and we need to make a push," tight end Jason Witten said. "You have to have that mentality and understand the challenges that are ahead and it's going to be even tougher as December rolls ahead. It's going to be a tough road, obviously Pittsburgh is playing well, the Giants and Baltimore is going to put up a fight and we just have to continue to play well."

The Cowboys are confident things will be different this time because they are playing their best football of the season heading into the final month.

Quarterback Tony Romo has returned from a broken right pinky to lead the Cowboys on the three-game winning streak.

The Cowboys were 1-2 during his absence and had actually lost four of the previous six games before he returned.

Romo has passed for 300 yards in the past two games and the offense looks to be explosive once again with the newly acquired Roy Williams becoming a factor along with Witten and Pro Bowl receiver Terrell Owens.

The defense has also been dominant of late. The unit has held its last three opponents under 100 yards rushing and registered seven sacks against the Seahawks last Thursday.

"I would take this season with what we have right now, knowing the things I know about football," linebacker Greg Ellis said. "That doesn't mean we're going to be Super Bowl champions but everybody has to say that this team is playing better. I think we are playing a lot better than we did at the beginning of the season."

TRENDING: The Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since 1996. Not coincidentally, that was the last time they finished the season strong, as the Cowboys have been the kings of the December fades ever since. The Cowboys have not had a winning record in December/January since 1996, going 18-36, including five playoff losses.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're getting some swagger. But we still got some ball to play and we have a tough stretch ahead." -- LB Bradie James.

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