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The VRR: Can A Cowboys' Shutout Shut Down the "December" Criticism?

The December to remember has come to a close. It started out rough with the Cowboys losing back-to-back games against the rival Giants and the red hot Chargers.

In these last two weeks though, the team made statements - first, by handing the Saints their first loss on the season; then, by pitching its first shutout since 2003 against the Redskins.

Surely, there is always room for improvement in every game. But is it realistic to expect Dallas to play a perfect game week-in, week-out? They've secured a spot in the playoffs. The defense and Tony Romo are playing solid football. The team has found its leaders and seems to rally around them. They believe that they can win. And, judging by Romo's post-game comments, they are still looking to improve.

Indeed, it's been a December to build upon. And yes, there is still some building left to do. Let's start with Buck Harvey's list of the mistakes the Cowboys made last night.

There were other mistakes, which is the only reason the miserable Redskins hung around. This is also the reason playoff teams will not "fear" the Cowboys, as Brooking contends.

Wasteful teams don't advance, and one particular concern will come up in January, too. Can Jason Garrett figure out how to gain a yard? He couldn't on the goal line earlier in the month against the Chargers. And Sunday night, on three different short-yardage situations, Garrett called for a defensive lineman's dream — delayed handoffs.

More VRR after the jump.

On a slightly more optimistic note, Randy Galloway says the Cowboys have exactly what they need: good play from both Romo and the defense.

The Cowboys’ December hoodoo voodoo was lurking, and it doesn’t take a history lesson to chart franchise failures in these kind of win-and-get-in situations over the past decade-plus. Say, last December, for instance.

But a couple of vital positives converged on Sunday. The quarterback and the defense. I’m not rushing it, but the best playoff combo of all is strong QB play and strong defense. Just thought I’d mention it.

Yes, the defense dominated last night...wait, how many tackles did Bradie James have? Nice!

It limited Washington to 218 total yards and only 29 percent on third-down tries. Bradie James had 12 tackles and Jay Ratliff had two sacks.

The 4th-and-shorts. Should Dallas have tried the field goals? New kicker Shaun Suisham had the confidence that he'd make them. That's what a kicker needs, other than a big leg.

"This is a very successful football team and we won the game," Suisham said. "When I'm asked to kick, I'll kick. My job is to prepare in those scenarios like I'm going to kick. If they don’t call on me, they don’t call on me."

Suisham believes the field goals were within his range, but his career statistics don't inspire confidence on long field goals. He is 3-of-9 from 50 yards or longer, including a miss earlier this season at Cowboys Stadium.

Some fun statistical notes on the game:

David Buehler added two touchbacks today to give him 25 for the season - leaving him two shy of Lin Elliott for the most in a Cowboys season since 1991.

Newman's 23 career interceptions broke a tie with Don Bishop and tied Darren Woodson for 10th in franchise history.

Romo's 286 yards today gave him 4,172 for the season - his second 4,000-yard season and the second-most in team history behind his 4,211 in 2007.

As each game passes, the Cowboys are beginning to show signs that Felix Jones is a RB that they are inclined to feature.

"I saw one swing pass tonight, and three guys were on him," owner/GM Jerry Jones said. "I'm thinking, 'Hell, if that happens, somebody else has got to be open.' That's what he can bring."

But against Washington, Jones showed the ability to get the between-the-tackle yards. On the clinching, 68-yard drive that gave the Cowboys a 17-0 lead, Jones caught a pass for four yards and ran three times for 18 yards.

"He likes to run downhill," running backs coach Skip Peete said. "People who say he's just an outside runner; he's not. He can run physical just like he can run to the outside."

Tashard Choice and Keith Brooking = emotional leaders.

Apparently, Choice had an emotional, heart-filled speech to his teammates on the Monday following the Cowboys' 20-17 loss to the Chargers. Much of the speech centered around the health of DeMarcus Ware, who had suffered the scary neck injury the day before. And as far as Choice and the players were concerned, they weren’t sure when, or if, Ware would return.

"He felt like it was important enough to tell the team what he had on his heart and on his mind," Marcus Spears said. "And we listened. We all left the meeting room and went about our business. What he said was important and we needed to hear that."

Keith Brooking: Motivational Speaker.

Coach Joe DeCamillis is back home from his emergency appendectomy. He will soon be able to pat Wes Phillips on the back for ST-coaching in his stead last night.

Marc Colombo's rehab has been progressing; he could very well return to play in the first game of the postseason.

As much as Colombo has worked, the Cowboys don't need to rush him back just yet. Maybe if Sunday's game was a win-or-else game it would be different, but the coaches like what they have seen from Doug Free in Colombo's absence.

Pat Watkins could return for that game, as well.

Elsewhere on the injury front, safety Pat Watkins sounded like he needed another week to return from a sprained PCL in his knee. He has missed the last two games. He was scheduled to do some jogging for the first time Monday.

Week 17's Eagles @ Cowboys contest has been moved to the late afternoon slot.

The Philadelphia Eagles at the Dallas Cowboys will now start at 4:15 p.m. and still be broadcast on Fox.

Todd Archer breaks down the seasons in which teams closed out the regular season together, only to meet again to open the playoffs.

The team website is already offering Playoff Priority tickets if you reserve your 2010 season tickets.

Tomorrow, the Pro Bowl rosters will be announced. Matt Mosley lists which Cowboys he thinks will make it.

NT Jay Ratliff, OLB DeMarcus Ware, ILB Keith Brooking, CB Mike Jenkins, Special teams Sam Hurd, QB Tony Romo, WR Miles Austin, LG Kyle Kosier (Don't laugh. I'm told by scouts that he's been the Cowboys' most consistent offensive lineman).

You gotta love them Dallas Cowboys! Do the Cowboys Stomp!

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