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Cowboys trying to remember and forget 4-12 season at the same time

IRVING, Texas -- Maybe you heard the Dallas Cowboys went 4-12 in 2015. Maybe you heard they picked fourth in the April draft, a measure of last year's ineptitude. Maybe you heard about their 1-11 record in games played without quarterback Tony Romo.

That 4-12 record was the worst the Cowboys posted since 1989, when they went 1-15. Since the advent of the 16-game schedule, it's the third-worst record in franchise history. The 1988 Cowboys went 3-13 in Tom Landry's last year.

"This is different territory for a lot of us," 14-year veteran Jason Witten said. "You have to look at it and understand that we've got to learn from it, but we've got to move forward. We can't hold it over our heads. If we want to be the team that we're talking about becoming, you've got to move forward. You can't allow that to hang over your head. And people are going to do that, and that's what we are. We're coming off a 4-12 season. We have to understand that's who we are, but we're working to change that."

Last offseason the Cowboys were coming off a 12-4 record and a season in which they came within a whisker of possibly advancing to the NFC Championship Game.

The talk then was moving on from the success, that each year is a new year. The Cowboys' 4-12 implosion had little to do with an overconfident bunch and more to do with the injuries to Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant and cornerback Orlando Scandrick.

As bad as things were, the Cowboys had chances to win six or seven more games. They failed to make the plays necessary offensively and defensively when it mattered most. It was that simple.

"I think you want to play with that chip on your shoulder, and our team needs to play with that," Romo said. "They need to work like that. So far this offseason they've been doing that."

And if they haven't been doing that, head coach Jason Garrett has been reminding them. Hardly considered a taskmaster in the way Bill Parcells was considered a taskmaster, Garrett let the players know last week he was displeased with the execution during an organized team activity.

"He ripped us a new one," running back Alfred Morris told reporters last week. "He has a standard and I love that ... 'This is the standard, don't go below this. Go higher, but don't go below it.' I love that."

Maybe you heard the Cowboys are considered a favorite in the NFC East this year. Maybe you heard Romo is looking and feeling better than he has in the past few years. Maybe you heard about Ezekiel Elliott, the fourth overall pick, who will transform the running game. Maybe you heard about the improving health of Bryant, Scandrick and other key components.

It's the offseason, when positivity reigns with every NFL team, and if it doesn't, then something is wrong.

The Cowboys were 4-12 last year. They earned that record and all that came with it, as owner Jerry Jones frequently pointed out.

The offseason ends next week with the mandatory minicamp. The next time the team is together will come in Oxnard, California, for the start of training camp.

On a perfect day in late July, Jones will sit on a stage flanked by his son, Stephen, the executive vice president, and Garrett at the team's River Ridge complex and express confidence that 2016 will be different. That the Cowboys are, indeed, contenders, like they were in 2014, when nothing more than a fourth straight 8-8 record was expected.

"This team is really understanding that, ‘Hey, there's nothing we can say or talk about. It's just us becoming a better football team,'" Witten said. "I've been proud of the way we've worked and have committed to the last couple of weeks to become a better football team. I think those results will show as the season goes on."