Cowboys have set themselves up for quite a finish

The Dallas Cowboys did everything expected from them in

November. They played four games and won them all.

They didn’t exactly get better as they went along, and they

didn’t exactly face the toughest foes in the toughest

circumstances. Yet they always found a way to win, and there’s

something to be said about that.

It remains to be seen whether this group led by Tony Romo,

DeMarcus Ware and rookie sensations DeMarco Murray and Dan Bailey

can consistently beat winning teams in high-stakes games. But the

bottom line on this recent surge is that they’ve put themselves in

position to find out.

The Cowboys (7-4) will head into the final five weeks of the

season atop the NFC East. They’ll either be tied with the Giants or

a game ahead of them, depending on what happens when New York plays

in New Orleans on Monday night.

”We needed to get going,” Romo said. ”We had some tough

losses earlier in the year, and we were in position to win some

games. At some point you’ve got to get on a roll and stack the wins

together. Getting these four wins was very big.”

Dallas and New York still have two meetings left, including the

finale on the road on New Year’s Day. The Cowboys’ other three

games are all against teams with losing records, but none are

gimmes. They’ll be on the road against Arizona and Tampa Bay, and

both are .500 at home, and they will play host to Philadelphia on

Christmas Eve.

The Eagles were the last team to beat the Cowboys, and they

spanked them 34-7 in the most lopsided loss of coach Jason

Garrett’s tenure. Philadelphia also is coming off a victory over

the Giants and could be back in the division race by then.

Thus, it all comes back to how Dallas plays down the stretch. Do

well, and the Cowboys will make the playoffs. Struggle, and they’ll

give Garrett and owner-GM Jerry Jones a better idea of which

players are and aren’t keepers in 2012 and beyond.

”We’re trying not to think of it in the overall big-picture

yet,” Romo said. ”It’s strictly about the week-to-week and the

process. … At the end of the year, those things will add up and

that’s what will be talked about.”

Romo laughed as he said that, admitting he was parroting some of

Garrett’s pet phrases. He knows that over the three-day weekend –

the reward for having played three times in 12 days – everyone will

be analyzing how far they’ve come and what they have left to return

to the playoffs after a bottoming-out season last year.

”We’ll come back to work on Monday and hopefully everybody gets

a chance to decompress a little bit, take a breath, get refreshed

and ready to go and we’ll get … going again,” Garrett said.

The Cowboys wouldn’t be in such great shape without the

emergence of Murray and Bailey.

Murray was a third-round pick who was expected to help

complement Felix Jones. The lockout and a hamstring injury slowed

him so much that when Jones went out with an injury, Dallas didn’t

immediately hand him the job. Then he ran for 253 yards in a game

he didn’t start and there was no doubt they had a special

player.

Dallas is 5-1 since Murray became the featured runner. He’s

gained 761 yards over those six games, which is more than NFL

rushing king Emmitt Smith, fellow Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett or any

other Cowboys running back has ever had.

Against Miami on Thursday, he showed he can be a closer, the

kind of guy who grinds out yards and burns the clock even when

everyone knows that he’s coming. On five straight carries, he

gained between 3 and 9 yards. He nearly broke one of those into a

longer gain but had the presence of mind to fall down in bounds

rather than risk getting shoved out of bounds and stopping the

clock.

”I’m still growing,” Murray said.

Bailey won a preseason kicking competition that included a

fellow rookie, the incumbent and two veterans. But he didn’t

exactly win the job outright as incumbent David Buehler was kept

for kickoffs and rookie Kai Forbath went on the non-football injury

list, giving Dallas a pair of options just in case.

Buehler is now on injured reserve and Forbath isn’t likely to

get a chance here.

Bailey has made 26 straight field goals, one shy of matching the

club record and 12 more than any rookie in NFL history. The last

two games ended with him making a field goal, and he’s won four

games this season with a kick in the final 2 minutes of regulation

or in overtime. No kicker in NFL history had ever done that more

than three times.

”Knock on wood, he’s been pretty automatic,” Garrett said.

”He’s a very consistent guy, both in his personality and his

temperament. … He seems to go out there and kick it through the

pipes every time we ask him to do it.”

That’s what the Cowboys have done for the last month. They

pulled away from Seattle in the second half, crushed Buffalo and

eeked out wins over Washington and Miami. The Redskins and Dolphins

each have only three wins, so consider that a potential warning

sign.

Or maybe it’s a sign of a team that simply does what it takes to

win.

The answer will be revealed over the next five weeks.