IRVING, Texas – Welcome back Cowboys.
Why, they had gone missing on Thanksgiving Day. Couldn't run the ball. Couldn't pass or catch the ball. Special teams were … meh. And the defense resembled those guys from a year ago.
But on a chilly Thursday night in Chicago, with the pessimistic vultures circling overhead, look what we found at Soldier Field.
DeMarco Murray rushes for 179 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries.
Tony Romo completes 21-of-26 passes for 205 yards, three touchdowns and finishes with a passer rating of 138.
Dez Bryant catches six passes for 82 yards.
Cole Beasley, three catches, two-thirds of 'em for touchdowns.
Gavin Escobar makes sure his one catch counted, a touchdown.
Joe Randle makes sure his one run counted, a touchdown.
The offense scores a season-high 41 points.
The defense plays decently for three quarters.
And special teams reappears before 61,558 off the shores of Lake Michigan.
And this team, dormant on Thanksgiving Day, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles, 33-10, causing the concern barometer to rise through the roof, pops up with a 41-28 victory, capturing the ever-elusive ninth victory of the season, breaking the cycle of three consecutive 8-8 campaigns and four straight non-winning years.
OK, I get it. Those were the Bears, now 5-8, and fixing to get their coaching staff run out of town. But let's remember, the Cowboys have lost to the currently 3-9 Redskins and nearly got beat by the 3-9 Giants. So any sort of win this late in the season is progress.
Especially with a team concluding this grueling stretch of having to play three games in 12 days, the Thanksgiving Day game bookended by a pair of night games on the road – the first time the Cowboys have been asked to play such an unreasonable three-game stretch.
But now they rest this weekend, knowing there are 10 days between games, the rematch with the Eagles yet another night game on the road, Dec. 14 at The Linc. And while they rest, having held serve in Game 13, there will be no such rest for the wicked, the Eagles having to tee it up on Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks in Philadelphia.
Back in the saddle.
"We are right in the hunt," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said, even managing a smile when having secured that ninth win was needlessly brought to his attention. "We have challenges ahead. We have to clean this up and get ready for the next challenge in Philadelphia."
As they began a four-day stretch of rest on the 13th day Friday, this much they knew:
They have at least secured their first winning season since 2009.
They now stand just a half-game behind Philadelphia (9-3) in the NFC East, and will emerge from this brief slumber either a full game behind the Eagles with three to play come Sunday night if Philly beats Seattle or in a tie for first in the NFC East if the Eagles lose.
Either way, a victory over Philadelphia is a necessity if they are to handle their own business without someone else handling their dirty work to win the NFC East.
And as for the two NFC wild-card berths, only three teams – Eagles, Cardinals and Packers – have a better record than the Cowboys, all leading their respective divisions at 9-3 heading into Sunday's play. Only Seattle and Detroit have as many losses, both 8-4, and only San Francisco is one loss behind at 7-5.
The good news is both Philadelphia and Seattle can't win this Sunday. When the smoke clears, either Philadelphia, Seattle and the Cowboys all will have four losses or the Seahawks will have five. Same with Detroit, facing Tampa Bay, still with four if the Lions win, sink to five if they happen to lose.
There is more. Since the Packers finish the season against Detroit, one of them must have at least another loss. Seattle and San Francisco must meet again, so chalk up at least another loss for one of them. And Arizona finishes the season with games against Seattle and San Francisco, so somewhere in there are two more losses.
Muddled? You bet.
But at least the Cowboys can't sink to the depths of .500 again. And how 'bout this? They are 1-0 in December. Might seem trite, but that's a start.
"Other than the fact that we still have all our goals in front of us, I think that's more for you guys to do your December 8-8 stuff," Romo said playfully after the game when the eight-win threshold was brought up. "It's a fun week for you guys, I'm sure. Now you have to come up with something else."
Or as Romo said on the NFL Network postgame show, "We had enough 8-8. It's time to move on from that."
Past time, especially since 20 guys on Thursday's 53-man roster had nothing to do with last year's 8-8.
Now they move on for the first time in three seasons this time of year a relatively healthy team. By time next Sunday rolls around it should be all hands on deck. There is a good chance the inactive DeMarcus Lawrence (rib muscle), Tyler Patmon (knee) and Jeff Heath (thumb) will be healthy enough to play against the Eagles. Josh Brent just got in his first 22 snaps in two years Thursday night.
And best of all, Romo's two transverse process fractures should be just about healed by time they roll into the City of Brotherly Shove. And maybe by then he won't have to take another Toradol shot as he has been almost weekly all season long.
"They're close," Romo said of the fractures healing. "I took a shot this week. I didn't last week for the Eagles game and that was a poor decision, I think. It's getting toward the end. It will be nice when it's just about the back improving instead of all the other little junk."
That "little junk," according to Romo on the postgame TV show, includes another broken rib, suffered a week or two after the Game 2 win at St. Louis, one he never previously acknowledged.
So as the Cowboys take a well-deserved deep breath this weekend, it's amazing the perception one loss can create for a team previously 8-3, and then what a difference one victory makes once they fell to 8-4.
But what you saw Thursday night in Chi-Town is what the Cowboys must be:
"We are a running team that makes it difficult (on defenses) because we can throw it at a high rate, and we can be aggressive with it," Romo says. "We have a very good nucleus, and these guys have to put their egos at the door for us to really be successful. And, they all have.
"It's a really special thing because it's not always that way."
No, it's not, but that's the recipe from here on out.
Now that the 'Boys are back in town.