IRVING, Texas – As soon as the calendar flipped to December, the questions settled in on the Cowboys' ineptitude.
It's a topic that's seemingly synonymous with this team's penchant for 8-8 finishes these past few years. Once Thanksgiving is over, and the cold weather arrives, the Cowboys fall apart. Their December record since 2011 – the first of their .500 finishes – is an uninspiring 5-8.
Even more painful than that: those forgettable Decembers have come after the Cowboys went a combined 9-3 in November.
"I think those past experiences, we're all better because of that," said Jason Witten. "As tough as they were, it's caused us to self-reflect and look at it and evaluate coming up short in December."
Each blueprint for a disappointing finish has been different. Last year's Cowboys limped into December at 7-5 with injury issues aplenty, and they proceeded to post a 1-2 record before losing Tony Romo for the year. They lost the season finale to finish 8-8.
The 2012 team actually posted a winning record in December, at 3-2. Unfortunately, they'd dug themselves a 5-6 hole by that point. It also didn't help that after a three-game winning streak to open December, they lost two in a row to end the season.
The 2011 season might have had the most promise when the Cowboys entered their final month. They rode a four-game winning streak into December and proceeded to win just one of their final five.
Those struggles have been and will be discussed ad nauseam – by both fans and media members. It's not an issue that gets brought up in the Cowboys' day-at-a-time oriented locker room.
"We don't talk about it. Each season, it's a new football team. You're going to write your own story each year with that football team," said Tony Romo. "I've said it a long time, if your team is good enough – if you're going to get stops, you're going to be able to move the ball, and you're going to score -- you're going to be a good team in December. If it's hard to get stops and it's hard to score, it's probably going to be a tough year."
This December promises to provide plenty of challenges in regard to those abilities. The Cowboys start it off Thursday night in Chicago – the same place where last December went off track. The Bears team waiting at Soldier Field this week employs many of the same weapons that decimated Dallas to the tune of 45-28 last winter.
"That was a long time ago – two different teams," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "You can get some stuff from it, but we're a different team, they're a different team. That was a long time ago."
It has been a year since the two teams played, but it remains to be seen if this team is capable of doing what its predecessors couldn't. Currently sitting at four games above .500, this year's Cowboys are in much better position for a winning record – and a subsequent playoff berth.
"Obviously, we've put ourselves in a great position – 8-4. We've got a couple games left, but we're just taking it one game at a time," said DeMarco Murray. "We've just been battling, we've just been battling – day in and day out, week in and week out."
The mindset all season has been to focus on one challenge at a time, but it won't end with the Bears. Dallas also faces cold weather division games in Philadelphia and Washington D.C., and there's also the home date against one of the NFL's hottest quarterbacks in Andrew Luck.
But, again – one challenge at a time.
"Weather, the opponent, where they're at, I think that all goes into how you play in December," Witten said. "I think we've got it pretty tough, you look at who we play, where we play them at – you really can't look past the upcoming game. I think our team understands that, and I think Coach Garrett has done a good job of spreading that message."
Given the way they played on Thanksgiving, plenty of players sound eager to get back onto a field and redeem themselves – regardless of how cold that field is. The narrative around this team since last Thursday seems to be that the season is slipping away, and the struggles in December only give credence to that.
As Witten was quick to point out, though, the Cowboys' fate is still entirely up to them with four games to play – something not many teams can say.
"I am excited. It's hard to get to this point in the year and be 8-4 and right in the middle of the hunt," he said. "When you've played long enough, like I have, you respect the opportunity that you have and where you are positioned."
As for the talk of choking, or fading down the stretch, Witten said there's only one way to silence questions about December.
"Until you change it they're going to continue to happen. That's why I think we're all anxious to change the outcome," he said.