45) How Will The Cowboys Handle The Home Stretch?

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IRVING, Texas – As the Cowboys focus on the offseason, training camp is still in sight.

Coming off two straight 8-8 seasons and three full seasons removed from the playoffs, the Cowboys have plenty of question marks surrounding them as they prepare for the 2013 season.

As we count down the days to camp, the writers of DallasCowboys.com will take a different question each day that is hovering over this team.

With 45 days until the Cowboys take the field in Oxnard, Calif., today's question centers on the Cowboys' recent holiday woes:

45) Where will the Cowboys stand entering the final month of 2013?

The last month of the season has not been kind to the Cowboys for roughly 10 years. In that time span, the team has been in position or contending for a playoff spot nearly every year and has been largely unsuccessful in keeping pace.

Plenty of that can be traced to mediocre results in the homestretch of the season – starting with the traditional Thanksgiving game, which the Cowboys have now played 45 times. The result of playing a game on Thanksgiving has usually been a good one, as the Cowboys are 28-16-1 after 45 renditions.

But the stretch of Thanksgiving to New Year's hasn't been so good recently. Dallas typically plays six games from Thanksgiving until the end of the regular season, and the Cowboys are just 23-24 in that homestretch since 2005.

Not surprisingly, the Cowboys two most recent playoff trips, 2007 and 2009, coincided with their last two winning records in December – they went 4-2 in both years. Last year's performance was a mediocre 3-3 bookended by lackluster losses to the Redskins, one on Thanksgiving and the other coming the day before New Year's Eve.

Things might be set up favorably this year, however. The end-of-season stretch starts and ends with home games – a Thanksgiving game against an unproven Raiders team, and a home finale (for the first time since 2010) against an Eagles team which underwhelmed in 2012.

The middle of that stretch is dominated by 2012 playoff contenders, with road games to Chicago and the reigning division champ Redskins, plus a home date against the NFC North champion Packers.

It won't be easy, because nothing in the NFL is. But history says the Cowboys will probably need to manage it with a winning record to make the playoffs.

Sticking with our numerical journey to training camp, let's take a closer look at the number 45:

  • Cowboys Stadium hosted Superbowl XLV (45) in 2011, marking Dallas' first Super Bowl and Texas' third overall. Green Bay won its fourth Super Bowl in a 31-25 win against Pittsburgh. The Packers raced out to a 21-3 lead before fending off an impressive Pittsburgh rally in the second half.
  • As mentioned above, the Cowboys have played 45 times on Thanksgiving with a healthy 28-16-1 record. The 45th game wasn't one to remember fondly, though. The Redskins came into Cowboys Stadium and upended the Cowboys behind 304 passing yards and four touchdowns from rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
  • Dez Bryant nabbed 45 receptions as a rookie in 2010 – second-best in Cowboys history, only behind Bob Hayes' 46 grabs.
  • The Cowboys boast a pair of 45-point wins. One came all the way back in 1966, a 52-7 beatdown of division rival New York. The other was a 59-14 crushing of San Francisco in 1980. The 45-point margin is the third-highest in team history.\
  • Punter Sam Baker averaged 45.4 yards per punt in 1962, which is the fourth-best average in team history. Impressively for that time period, Baker's average was the best in Cowboys history all the way up until 2006.
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