IRVING, Texas (AP) — Jerry Jones sees a healthy and productive Tony Romo taking the Dallas Cowboys into December in playoff contention — same as the past two years.
If the Dallas owner gets another ending without a postseason trip, he's going to feel as if someone is piling on.
"I don't know of but one or two other things I could put on a hand that matches the disappointment that I've had the last two years," Jones said.
"I've often said it is one of the biggest disappointments of my entire time to have Romo as quarterback and not be in better shape for the playoffs as we've looked at his career. We need to change that."
The Cowboys get December started Monday night in Chicago, where Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will be sidelined again and Dallas should see the return of linebacker Sean Lee, who was a full participant in practice Thursday after missing two games with a hamstring injury.
Dallas (7-5) and Philadelphia are tied atop the NFC East, and those teams play the season finale on the Cowboys' home field. Before that, the Cowboys get Green Bay at home and Washington on the road.
The 2011 and 2012 seasons ended for the Cowboys away from home in chilly playoffs-or-bust finales against the other division rivals, the New York Giants and the Redskins.
That's probably why Dallas cornerback Orlando Scandrick thinks of the December failures as "a bunch of road games."
"We couldn't set it up much better," said Scandrick, who has been strong as a starter with injuries sidelining 2012 top 10 pick Morris Claiborne. "Two road, two home. This feels like as good an opportunity as you could ask for."
The chances the past two seasons were good, too. The Cowboys were 8-6 each time, although they had a bad December two years ago before losing to the Giants 31-14 in a night game on New Year's Day.
Last year, Romo led the Cowboys to three straight December wins before losses to New Orleans and Washington extended their playoff drought to three years.
The past two Decembers sum up Romo's career pretty well: spotty overall and an 11-15 record as a starter with three trips to the playoffs and three early tickets home.
"We're not even looking back, last December to the December before that," Scandrick said. "None of that's even been discussed. We're looking forward and we're focused."
The Cowboys are healthier as well. Last December they were missing their two best linebackers in Lee (toe injury) and Bruce Carter (dislocated elbow).
Safety Barry Church was long gone by then with a ruptured Achilles tendon, and pass rushing star DeMarcus Ware wasn't himself because of a shoulder injury that required surgery in the offseason.
So Dallas basically couldn't stop Drew Brees from throwing or Alfred Morris from running in the back-to-back losses.
This time, Claiborne is the only significant defender sidelined, not counting the early season loss of end Anthony Spencer to knee surgery or the release of tackle Jay Ratliff after he didn't play a down in Dallas because of a groin injury and signed with Chicago, where he made his season debut last week.
"There's no question we were rendered almost really helpless as the last part of the season came along to really be what we wanted to be defensively," Jones said. "We're not that way this year. We've got a chance."
Jason Garrett is talking to his players about finishing.
"And there are so many things that you finish," the coach said. "You finish plays, you finish drives, you finish games and you certainly emphasize finishing the season. That's where our attention's going to be."
So is the owner's.
Notes: Besides Lee, two other Dallas LBs were full participants in practice after missing multiple games. Justin Durant was out two games with a hamstring injury, and rookie Devonte Holloman has missed the past six games with a neck problem. ... Claiborne and WR/KR Dwayne Harris did not practice because of hamstring issues. ... The Cowboys signed TE Jameson Konz and RB George Winn to their practice squad.