IRVING — One year ago, the Dallas Cowboys faced a month of December they'd just as soon forget.
On December 8, nose tackle Josh Brent had a car accident that claimed the life of practice squad linebacker Jerry Brown.
"Yeah, that month was tough for us off the field," recalled Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr. "On the field, guys really stuck together and we saw what we were made of."
The Cowboys finished 2-2 that month, failing to win the season finale against Washington that would have put them in the playoffs.
Now, the Cowboys are again getting ready for a four-game stretch run with two at home and two on the road — games that will determine their post-season eligibility.
"The name of the game is get better each and every week you step onto the field," Carr said. "December is going to be crucial for us to continue to get better, continue to improve on the things that have been haunting us in the past. We feel like we can make a run at this thing. We want to have all of our guys firing and all of our guys in tip-top shape and at a competition level when it's time to go out there and suit 'em up."
The 7-5 Cowboys have won their last two, producing a healthy outlook toward their final four games of the season.
"You've got to be careful about taking a global point of view," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "We've just got to get back to work. It's a good opportunity for us to get away. We'll focus on our preparation and focus on winning one ball game."
"We're feeling great, to be honest with you," Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant said. "We're feeling real great. We've got to keep our head down and keep doing what we're doing what got us here, and not pay attention to where we're at."
"We've got a really good division," noted Dallas running back DeMarco Murray. "We've still got a couple of other teams that are really good. It's right there, but at the same time, we can't think about that — we've got to take 'em one game at a time and control what we can control and continue to play like we've been playing."
The Cowboys last made the playoffs in 2009. In the three seasons since that appearance, Dallas has gone 5-7 in their final four games.
There is a positive side to all this. Quarterback Tony Romo has a passer rating of 106.3 in December. That's second only to Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers, whose 109.2 rating is first among all active quarterbacks.
Unlike Rogers — who won a Super Bowl — Romo's success in December has translated to just one win and three losses in the post season.
"We just need to win some games," Romo said. "I think more than anything, you've just got to keep stacking wins together and see where you're at the end. I think our football team continues to try and improve each week that goes by. I think we're playing some of our better football right now."
That can't necessarily be said for the Dallas defense, which — statistically — continues to languish along the bottom of the league.
"I think this team has molded to be the team that we needed to be at the right time, and we've just got to keep getting wins and keep this going forward," said Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware.
"The coordinator along with the players has gotten beaten up because we didn't play very well," Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin added. "They've overcome some adversity and hung together as a team; that's what you got to do. If we do that, we'll be okay. We'll get better. We're getting some people back."
So this year, as the Cowboys start another month of December, players are hoping that 2013 will be different.
"It's never over until the fat lady sings, and guys really are believing in that, and it's really showing now," Carr said. "We've just got to keep this thing going into December... keep this momentum... and everybody should just continue to get better... and hopefully get our guys back and be healthy and ready to roll."
The Cowboys' last playoff appearance and their most recent post-season win both date back four years. This team is hoping they can change their recent course of history.