The Cowboys annually dominate Thanksgiving, then deflate come December

DALLAS (105.3 THE FAN) – I can’t explain cranberry sauce. Nor Macy’s inclusion of gigantic balloons in its parade. Or even why Pilgrims in the 1620s ate cabbage (yuck) out of a Horn o’ Plenty (what?).

But in comparison to the absurdity of your Dallas Cowboys in November, the mystery of Thanksgiving is as simple as snapping a Wishbone.

Quarterback Tony Romo has a reputation as a choker. As an overrated player who tries to make turkey lasagna out of gizzards. And as a style-over-substance leader who somehow has won only one more playoff game than you and me and William Bradford combined. And yet, there’s no denying it: Romo is the NFL’s best all-time November quarterback.

Reggie Jackson became baseball’s Mr. October with just 3 swings back in 1977. But over 7 seasons as the starting quarterback for America’s Team, Romo has produced unprecedented holiday treats. He’s 14-0 at home in November. Furthermore, he’s 5-0 on Thanksgiving, throwing 14 touchdowns, only 4 interceptions and leading the Cowboys to blowouts by a combined score of 150-48.

“To be honest,” Romo says, “there’s no easy explanation for that. We’ve been fortunate to play some of our best football around this time of the year. It’d be nice to carry that over into December and beyond this year.”

When the Cowboys host Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins Thursday at Cowboys Stadium, they’ll attempt to continue a remarkable trend of triumphs on Turkey Day. In ’06 Romo tied a franchise record with 5 touchdown passes in a 38-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In ’07 the Cowboys smeared the Jets, 34-3. In ’08 they plucked the Seahawks, 34-9. In ’09 Dallas took care of the Raiders, 24-7. In ’10, with Romo out for the season with a broken collar bone, the Cowboys fell to the Saints behind Jon Kitna. And last year Romo and Dez Bryant rallied the Cowboys to a 20-19 victory on Dan Bailey’s field goal as time expired.

As the calendar has turned to December, of course, the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving magic has deteriorated into chilling indigestion. With Romo at quarterback – excluding ’10 – the Cowboys are a dismal 9-13 in the season’s last, and perhaps most meaningful month.

At 5-5 and winners of their last 2 games, the Cowboys are again in position to control their playoff destiny into December. They are favored by 3 points Thursday and will – after 10 days off – likely knock off the imploding Philadelphia Eagles at home on Dec. 2.

And just like that, a season teetering at 3-5 at the halfway point could be – should be – 7-5 as they head to Cincinnati to play the Bengals on Dec. 9. After that are December home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers (Dec. 16) and New Orleans Saints (Dec. 23) and at the Redskins (Dec. 30). To get to 10 wins and make the playoffs for only the 8th time since 1995, Dallas will likely have to win 4 games in December – something the Cowboys last accomplished in’93 by the team that peaked late and won Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta.

The Cowboys do, however, have the right men running their holiday show. Owner Jerry Jones always kicks off the Salvation Army season with a musical bang, this year offering country music star Kenny Chesney as the halftime entertainment. And Romo’s turkey superlatives can almost be matched by the one-hit wonder of head coach Jason Garrett.

It was 18 years ago that the red-headed back-up quarterback from Princeton authored one of the most amazing holiday scripts in Cowboys’ history.

Thanksgiving Day, ‘94. With Troy Aikman and Rodney Peete out with injuries, Dallas’ third-stringer stepped in and promptly fell behind the Green Bay Packers, 17-3, at Texas Stadium. But in a performance that was as amazing as it was surprising, the quarterback threw for 311 yards, tossed long touchdowns to Alvin Harper and Michael Irvin, and led the Cowboys to a team-record 36 second-half points in a rousing 42-31 victory.

The quarterback that day will be the head coach Thursday: Jason Garrett.

Ah, the magic of Thanksgiving.

The turkey. The dressing. The relatives and the heartburn, neither of which will leave. The Salvation Army’s red kettle. The classic opponents, including this year’s Redskins. The grandiose halftime show, tomorrow featuring Chesney. And the – usually anyway – Cowboys’ victory.

Dallas is 28-15-1 all-time on Turkey Day. Some of them – for better or for worse – you might remember …

10. 11.25.11 Cowboys 20, Dolphins 19 – 2 touchdown passes from Tony Romo to Laurent Robinson and a late Dez Bryant punt return help to finally subdue pesky Miami, climaxed by Dan Bailey’s 28-yard field goal as time expires.

9. 11.26.87 Vikings 44, Cowboys 38 (OT) – Darrin Nelson’s game-ending run overcomes Danny White’s 5 touchdowns and drops 5-6 Dallas out of the playoffs.

8. 11.24.05 Broncos 24, Cowboys 21 (OT) – After Billy Cundiff misses a 34-yard field goal late in regulation, Denver’s Ron Dayne sets up the heartbreak loss with a 55-yard rumble.

7. 11.23.06 Cowboys 38, Buccaneers 10 –Romo’s ascension from free agent to superstar gains traction as his franchise-record tying 5 touchdowns lead Dallas into first place in the NFC East.

6. 11.26.98 Vikings 46, Cowboys 36 – Rookie receiver Randy Moss haunts the team that passed over him in the draft with 3 touchdowns and 163 yards receiving.

5. 11.22.01 Broncos 26, Cowboys 24 – Dallas’ rally from a 26-3 deficit is thwarted when coach Dave Campo inexplicably shuns a 2-point conversion attempt after a Reggie Swinton touchdown in the fourth quarter.

4. 11.23.89 Eagles 27, Cowboys 0 – Philly’s Buddy Ryan adds to the “Bounty Bowl” humiliation with a $200 reward for one of his players taking out Cowboys’ kicker Luis Zendejas.

3. 11.24.94 Cowboys 42, Packers 31 – With Troy Aikman and Rodney Peete sidelined with injuries and his team trailing 17-3, Jason Garrett steps in and throws for 311 yards and leads Dallas to a record 36 second-half points.

2. 11.25.93 Dolphins 16, Cowboys 14 – Ice storm. Leon Lett. Grumble mumble …

1. 11.28.74 Cowboys 24, Redskins 23 – Replacing an injured Roger Staubach, Abilene Christian rookie Clint Longley – making his first NFL appearance – orchestrates a dramatic and improbable rally, climaxed by a 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson with 28 seconds remaining.