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DeMarco Murray: Most Touches in a Season

workhorseA big debate for at least part of his offseason is whether the Cowboys should or will sign free-agent running back DeMarco Murray. A significant part of that conversation will focus on Murray’s workload in 2014 and the effect it could have on him moving forward.

He had 449 touches in 2014, which is the most for any running back in team history during a regular season. Here are the numbers:

Murray had another 48 touches in two games to give him 497. By comparison, Emmitt Smith had 439 regular-season touches in 1995 and added another 80 in three playoff games. Smith also exceeded 500 touches in 1992, when he had 432 regular-season touches plus another 84 in three playoff games.

Smith was one of the most durable running backs in NFL history, but his numbers did decline after his record-breaking 1995 season. He played nine more season but never rushed for more than 1,400 yards again. Of course, part of that had to do with an aging offensive line during the late 1990s, but he was never quite the same back after 1995.

Murray ranks 6th in NFL history for touches in a regular season (Smith now ranks 10th). Of the five players with 450 or more touches, here is a quick summary of the rest of their careers.

5. Edgerrin James (Indianapolis, 450 touches, 2000): James had five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons between 2003 and 2007. However, following his 450-touch season in 2000, he played in only six games in 2001 and 14 games in 2002.

4. LaDainian Tomlinson (San Diego, 451 touches, 2006): Tomlilnson was the back who could have challenged Smith’s all-time rushing title, but Tomlinson had only two more seasons with more than 1,000 yards after touching the ball 451 times in 2006.

3. Eddie George (Tennessee, 453 touches, 2000): George had two more 1,000-yard seasons after 2000, but he never averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry after touching the ball 453 times that year.

2. Larry Johnson (Kansas City, 457 touches, 2006): Johnson played in all 16 games only twice during his career, including the 2006 season when he touched the ball 457 times. He never played a full season again and never came close to matching his rushing totals from 2005 (1,750 yards) or 2006 (1,789 yards).

1. James Wilder (Tampa Bay, 492 touches, 1984): Wilder had never rushed for 1,000 yards until he carried the ball 407 times and caught another 85 passes in 1984. He had only one more 1,000-yard season after 1984 before he started suffering injuries.

Green Bay 26, Dallas 21: Sickening Call, Blown Chances

Thanks to one of the most frustrating rules in the NFL, Dez Bryant did not catch this pass.

Thanks to one of the most frustrating rules in the NFL, Dez Bryant did not catch this pass.

The replay of Dez Bryant’s incredible catch in the fourth quarter—which was subsequently overturned—will haunt every Cowboys’ fan this offseason just as much as Tony Romo fumbling the snap on the field-goal attempt in 2006 or Patrick Crayton failing to run the correct route in a playoff loss to the Giants in 2007.

The circumstance: Dallas faced a 4th-and-2 from the Green Bay 32 with 4:42 remaining in the fourth quarter. Dallas trailed, 26-21. Tony Romo threw a fade pass to Bryant, who jumped over Sam Shields to grab the ball. Bryant took at least three steps before beginning to stretch for the goal line. Referees initially concluded that Bryant had made the catch and marked the ball inside the 1.

However, the tip of the ball hit the ground and bounced up slightly. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play, and officials overrruled the call. Green Bay took possession, and the Dallas defense was unable to stop the Packers.

Green Bay 26, Dallas 21. Season over.

It was no guarantee that Dallas would have won, even if the Cowboys scored after the Bryant catch. Dallas made numerous mistakes during the game, and those mistakes had as much to do with the loss as the call.

The Cowboys led 14-7 in the second half and had a chance to increase the lead before halftime. However, facing a 3rd-and-1, the Cowboys tried a pass. Romo could not find a receiver, setting up a field-goal attempt.

Dan Bailey has been nearly automatic during his career, but he has not been automatic this postseason. He missed an attempt against Detroit last weekend, and he missed his first attempt on Sunday. He had a second chance, however, when officials waived off the play. Nevertheless, he missed the second try from 51 yards, as Green Bay appeared to tip the ball.

Green Bay managed to move the ball 33 yards in 30 seconds to set up a field goal, so instead of Dallas leading 17-7 at the half, it was 14-10.

Early in the second half, DeMarco Murray took the ball, and it appeared he might be off to the races. Instead, Julius Peppers stripped the ball, and Green Bay recovered. A Packer field goal cut the lead to 14-13.

The Cowboys answered with a touchdown drive. On the ensuing kickoff return, Reggie Cobb fumbled. However, James Hanna could not recover that fumble, and Green Bay retained possession.

Later in that drive, the Packers faced a 3rd and 15 from the Dallas 46. Aaron Rodgers found Davante Adams, who got behind Sterling Moore and made J.J. Wilcox miss. Adams’ touchdown cut the Dallas lead to 21-20.

The Packers took the lead with just over nine minutes remaining in the game, and the overturned call killed any chance of the Cowboys coming from behind.

Another long offseason. This loss was sickening.

 

 

Dallas 24, Detroit 20: Redeemed at Long Last

redeemed_definition_bThe Dallas Cowboys overcame an early 14-0 deficit and scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Detroit Lions in the wildcard round of the 2014 playoffs.

Several of those involved in the win were redeemed after some past failures.

Jason Garrett was the coach when the Cowboys blew two games (2011 and 2013) where Dallas should have beaten the Lions. On Sunday, Dallas trailed for much of the game, but Garrett made some calls that factored into the win.

Most notably, with the team facing a 4th and 6 from the Detroit 42, Garrett went for it. Tony Romo hit Jason Witten on a 21-yard gain.

Tony Romo’s playoff failures have largely defined his legacy in Dallas. On Sunday, he had trouble with the Lions’ pass rush all day.

But when it mattered most, Romo came through. Nine plays after he hit Witten on the fourth-down play, the Cowboys faced a 3rd-and-goal from the Detroit 8. Romo bought time in the pocket before finding Terrance Williams in the end zone for what turned out to be a game-winner.

It was Williams’ second touchdown of the game. His first came when the Cowboys needed it the most. Trailing 14-0, the Cowboys faced a 3rd-and-2 from their own 34. Williams was called for offensive pass interference, pushing Dallas back to its own 24.

Romo hit Williams on the next play, and Williams went off to the races. He split the Detroit defenders on his way to a 76-yard touchdown. The play cut the Detroit lead to 14-7 and largely kept the Cowboys in the game at that point.

The defense did not tackle well and had breakdowns in the secondary. The first breakdown occurred less than four minutes into the game, as Golden Tate took a slant pass and raced 51 yards for the first score of the game.

But after the Lions scored 14 points in the first 13 minutes of the game, the Dallas defense held its own. Detroit only scored six more points in the final 47 minutes.

Calvin Johnson abused Brandon Carr at Detroit last year, gaining 329 yards on 17 receptions.

In the playoff game, Johnson had five receptions for 85 yards, but he did not have the huge plays that killed the Cowboys last year.

The special teams did not have a special day. In the first quarter, Detroit faced a 4th-and-5 from its own 6 and had to punt. However, Dekoda Watson (playing in his first game as a Cowboy) ran into the Detroit punter, giving the Lions a first down.

The automatic Dan Bailey even missed a field goal.

However, Bailey nailed an important 51-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to cut the Detroit lead to 20-17. A poor punt by Detroit’s Sam Martin also gave Dallas great field position for what turned out to be the game-winning drive.

Rookie DeMarcus Lawrence needed redemption as well. With the game nearing the two-minute warning, Anthony Spencer sacked Matthew Stafford, who fumbled. Lawrence picked up and tried to advance it, but he lost the ball and fumbled it back to the Lions.

Nine plays later, Lawrence sacked Stafford on a fourth-down play and forced yet another fumble. This time, Lawrence recovered the fumble, effectively ending the game.

* * *

The Cowboys will face the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs at noon on Sunday. This marks the seventh time the Cowboys and Packers have faced off in the playoffs, but only the second time they have played at Green Bay. The last time was the Ice Bowl in 1967.

* * *

Speaking of the Packers, in Tom Landry’s first playoff game as the Cowboys’ head coach in the 1966 NFL Championship Game, Green Bay jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

Dallas came back to tie the game before the end of the first quarter but lost the lead before halftime. Dallas kept the game close but never finished the comeback.

In Jason Garrett’s first game as the Cowboys’ head coach, Dallas fell behind 14-0, and it took all game to come back. But unlike the ’66 championship game, Dallas finished the comeback.

* * *

People will remember the Cowboys’ first playoff win in five years—and second in the last 18—in wildly different ways.

Detroit fans will undoubtedly (and quite understandably) dispute a fourth-quarter play where Cowboys’ linebacker Anthony Hitchens was originally called for pass interference. The referees inexplicably picked up the flag, and Detroit faced a fourth down. Martin shanked the punt, giving Dallas great field position.

Great break for the Cowboys, but objectively speaking, it’s hard to understand why the referees waived off the penalty. If that happened to the Cowboys, we would be utterly furious.

Just being fair.

Dallas 44, Washington 17: Wrapping Up an Unforgettable December

celebrateThe NFL released its 2014 schedule in late April. We all saw the slate of December games—at Chicago, at Philadelphia, vs. Indianapolis, at Washington.

Would Dallas go 1-3? 0-4? Would the Cowboys even have anything to play for in December?

Instead, the Cowboys scored 40 or more points in three of those four games. Dallas went undefeated in December for the first time since 1991.

Dallas heads to the NFC playoffs with a full head of steam. Jason Garrett not only played starters against the Redskins on Sunday but also went for the win.

A long catch-and-run by DeSean Jackson gave Washington the early lead, but it did not last. Dez Bryant had his own catch-and-run for a 65-yard touchdown to give Dallas the lead in the first. Another Bryant touchdown later in the first extended the lead to 17-7, and Dallas never looked back.

After Dallas added a field goal early in the second quarter, Garrett approved an onside kick attempt. The Cowboys recovered and scored on the ensuing drive, bringing the Dallas lead to 27-7.

Washington cut the lead to 27-17 in the fourth quarter, but the Cowboys quickly ended any thought of a serious Washington comeback.

A 51-yard pass from Tony Romo to Terrance Williams set up another field goal.  Two plays later, Terrell McClain sacked Robert Griffin III, who fumbled. Anthony Spencer recovered and scored his first career touchdown. Joseph Randle later completed the scoring on a 65-yard run during mop-up duty.

DeMarco Murray surpassed Emmitt Smith to set the franchise’s single-season record for rushing yards with 1845. Bryant broke Terrell Owens’ record for receiving touchdowns in a season with 15.

This marks the first time since 1995 that the Cowboys have had a 12-4 record. The team will discover its playoff schedule depending on the outcome of the afternoon games on Sunday.

Dallas Cowboys: Ten Pivotal Regular Season Games, Part 7 (1997)

This is the seventh part of a ten-part series focusing on ten pivotal regular season games in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.

Not all famous games will appear on this list. For example, Roger Staubach’s final regular-season game against the Redskins was unforgettable, but the Cowboys turned around two weeks later and lost to the Rams in the playoffs.

Instead, this series focuses on games that marked turning points—good and bad—in franchise history.

November 23, 1997

Green Bay 45, Dallas 17

“A Dynasty Crumbles”

The Cowboys had historically performed well against the Green Bay Packers until Dallas took a trip to Lambeau Field in 1997.

The Cowboys had historically performed well against the Green Bay Packers until Dallas took a trip to Lambeau Field in 1997.

The Dallas Cowboys’ dynasty of the 1990s had been falling apart from the moment the team won Super Bowl XXX.

First, it was Michael Irvin’s arrest for drug possession and his subsequent suspension at the beginning of the 1996 season. Second, it was the false allegations that Irvin and Erik Williams had raped a woman. The latter occurred just days before Dallas lost to the Carolina Panthers in the 1996 playoffs.

The 1997 season was not a great one. Barry Switzer was arrested for gun possession in an airport before the season began, so the team had yet another distraction to begin the year.

A loss to San Francisco in week 10 left the Cowboys with a 4-5 record, but not all hope was lost because Dallas rebounded with consecutive wins over Arizona and Washington.

The 6-5 Cowboys then had to travel to Lambeau Field for the first time since 1989 (the teams played in Milwaukee in 1991). Green Bay had lost five consecutive games to Dallas, but the last four of those took place in Dallas.

The Packers were the defending Super Bowl champions, and they played like it. Although the Cowboys took a 10-7 lead in the first half, it seemed to be a matter of time before the Cowboys fell apart. Brett Favre threw three touchdowns in the second half, and the Packers rolled over the Cowboys, 45-17.

Some of us irrationally believed the Cowboys had enough talent for the dynasty to continue throughout the decade. The loss to Green Bay ended that illusion.

Dallas lost four more games in 1997 to finish at 6-10. A 20-7 loss to the Giants in the season finale was so bad that Irvin cried on the sideline.

Although Dallas replaced Barry Switzer with Chan Gailey, and the Cowboys returned to the playoffs in 1998 and 1999, the team was never the same.

Previously:

Part 1, December 5, 1965: “A Loser No More”—Dallas 21, Philadelphia 19

Part 2, November 22, 1970: “Road to the Super Bowl Begins in Washington”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 3, November 7, 1971: “The Dodger Era Begins”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 4, December 13, 1975: “Wildcard Berth It Is”—Dallas 31, Washington 10

Part 5, November 2, 1986: “Goodbye Danny, So Long America’s Team”— New York Giants 17, Dallas 14

Part 6, November 24, 1991: “A Dynasty Is Born”—Dallas 24, Washington 21

Dallas Cowboys: History of Division-Clinching Games

The Dallas Cowboys clinched their 22nd division title in franchise history with a 42-7 win over the Colts.

The Dallas Cowboys clinched their 22nd division title in franchise history with a 42-7 win over the Colts.

The Dallas Cowboys have struggled to win the NFC East in recent years, but in their history, the Cowboys have had great success within the division, as well as the old NFL Eastern Conference and Capitol Division before the merger in 1970. After beating the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, the Cowboys have won 22 division titles in the history of the franchise.

Below is a list of division-clinching games. Note that in a couple of instances, the Cowboys won the division thanks to losses by other teams. Note also that until 1978, the NFL regular season featured only 14 regular-season games instead of 16.

Week 13, 1966: The Cowboys lost to Washington on Dec. 11 and saw their record fall to 9-3-1. However, a Cleveland loss to Philadelphia on the same day clinched the NFL Eastern Conference title for the Cowboys.

Week 11, 1967: Dallas 46, St. Louis 21. The Cowboys ran away with the new Capitol Division of the NFL and clinched the division title with a win on Thanksgiving Day.

Week 12, 1968: Dallas 29, Washington 20. The Cowboys’ win over the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day, coupled with a loss by the Giants three days later, gave the Cowboys the Capitol Division title for the second straight year.

Week 12, 1969: Dallas 10, Pittsburgh 7. The Cowboys wrapped up their third consecutive (and final) Capitol Division title by beating the Steelers in an ugly game at Pitt Stadium.

Week 14, 1970: Dallas 52, Houston 10. The Cowboys reached Super Bowl V in 1970, of course, but the playoff position was not secure until Dallas routed Houston in the season finale, giving the Cowboys the NFC East title.

Week 14, 1971: Dallas 31, St. Louis 12. The Cowboys had secured at least a playoff berth by the time they played the Cardinals in the regular season finale in 1971. A 31-12 win gave Dallas the division title over a Washington team that faded late in the season.

Week 14, 1973: Dallas 30, St. Louis 3. Dallas had entered its week 13 matchup with Washington a game behind the Redskins. However, the Cowboys beat Washington and then beat the Cardinals in the regular-season finale. A tiebreaker gave the 10-4 Cowboys the NFC East title.

Week 13, 1976: Dallas 26, Philadelphia 7. The Cowboys had stormed out of the gate in 1976 with a 9-1 record but could not clinch the division title until they beat the Eagles in week 13. Dallas won the division with an 11-3 record, followed by Washington and St. Louis, which both finished at 10-4.

Week 12, 1977: Dallas 24, Philadelphia 14. The Cowboys had little trouble winning the NFC East in 1977, wrapping up the division title with two games remaining.

Week 14, 1978: Dallas 17, New England 10. The 1978 season was the first to feature 16 regular-season games. Dallas clinched the NFC East title yet again with two games remaining thanks to a win over the Patriots coupled with losses by Washington and Philadelphia.

Week 16, 1979: Dallas 35, Washington 34. This is perhaps the most famous division-clinching game in the history of the Cowboys. Roger Staubach brought Dallas from behind to beat Washington in his final regular-season game.

Week 15, 1981: Dallas 21, Philadelphia 10. After losing the division title to Philadelphia in 1980 thanks to a tiebreaker, the Cowboys earned revenge by wrapping up the division with a win over the Eagles.

Week 15, 1985: Dallas 28, New York Giants 21. The Cowboys celebrated their last NFC East title under head coach Tom Landry with a 28-21 win over the Giants. Although Dallas, New York, and Washington each finished with 10-6 marks, Dallas won the title on tiebreakers.

Week 15, 1992: Dallas 41, Atlanta 17. After a seven-year drought, the Cowboys won a division title thanks to a win on Monday Night Football over Atlanta. This win featured one of Emmitt Smith’s most famous touchdown runs, where he did his best impression of Barry Sanders.

Week 18, 1993: Dallas 16, N.Y. Giants 13. If the 1979 game on this list is not the most famous, the 1993 game is. Emmitt Smith played much of the game with a separated shoulder, yet willed the Cowboys to an overtime win to give Dallas its second consecutive NFC East title.

Week 14, 1994: Dallas 31, Philadelphia 19. Unlike the 1993 season, the Cowboys wrapped up the division title well before the regular season ended, winning the title with three games remaining.

Week 17, 1995: The Cowboys had a one-game lead over the Eagles heading into the regular-season finale in 1995, so it looked as if Dallas would need to beat the Cardinals to win the NFC East. As it turned out, the Eagles lost, so the Cowboys had won the division before playing Arizona. The win over Arizona was not meaningless, however, as the Cowboys secured home-field advantage in the playoffs thanks to a loss by San Francisco.

Week 16, 1996: Dallas 12, New England 6. The Cowboys overcame a 1-3 start and were able to wrap up a record fifth consecutive division title by beating New England in a game that featured nothing but field goals.

Week 16, 1998: Dallas 13, Philadelphia 9. The Cowboys won their sixth NFC East title in seven years by beating the Eagles in a rather unimpressive game. Dallas would not win another division title for nine years, though.

Week 14, 2007: Dallas 28, Detroit 27. Dallas won the NFC East title with three games remaining thanks to a come-from-behind win over the Lions. Tony Romo’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten with 22 seconds remaining gave Dallas the win.

Week 17, 2009: Dallas 24, Philadelphia 0. With the division title on the line in the season finale, the Cowboys thumped the Eagles in a 24-0 shutout. Dallas hosted the Eagles one week later, when the Cowboys won their first playoff game since 1996.

Week 16, 2014: Dallas 42, Indianapolis 7.  For three consecutive years, the Cowboys lost in their season finale to division opponents with the division title on the line. In 2014, however, the Cowboys took advantage of a Philadelphia loss to Washington and clinched the division title by routing the Colts.

Dallas 42, Indianapolis 7: Trouncing Their Way to the NFC East Title

For the first time during the Jason Garrett era, the Cowboys are heading to the playoffs.

For the first time during the Jason Garrett era, the Cowboys are heading to the playoffs.

Before Saturday, the Cowboys knew they had to beat Indianapolis to give them a chance to win the NFC East. This presumed Dallas needed to beat Washington next week as well.

The reason for this presumption? Surely the Eagles would beat the Redskins and Giants in the final two weeks of the season. Right?

Wrong. Philadelphia made numerous mistakes on Saturday and wound up falling to Washington, 27-24, on a late field goal.

So on Sunday, the Cowboys needed to beat a Colt team with little motivation to win. Indianapolis had already clinched its division title and could not improve its playoff seeding.

Dallas put the game away soon after most people found their seats. Tony Romo threw touchdown passes in the first quarter to Terrence Williams and Dez Bryant, followed by a third touchdown early in the second quarter to Cole Beasley.

A touchdown run later in the second by DeMarco Murray increased the lead to 28-0. The Colts barely put up a fight, and the game’s outcome was not in question during the entire second half.

Murray gained 58 yards on 22 carries while playing with his surgically repaired left hand.

Romo was nearly perfect, completing 18 of 20 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns. When he threw a touchdown pass to Jason Witten in the third quarter, Romo surpassed Troy Aikman as the team’s all-time leader in passing yards. Romo now has 32,971 yards compared with 32,942 for Aikman.

The Cowboys could possibly earn a bye in the first-round of the NFC playoffs, but Dallas would need Seattle to lose or Green Bay and Detroit to tie. The more likely scenario is that the Cowboys will have the #3 seed and host a playoff game in two weeks.

 

Dallas 38, Philadelphia 27: A Signature Win

Dez Bryant was nearly unstoppable, catching three touchdown passes in the Cowboys' 38-27 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Dez Bryant was nearly unstoppable, catching three touchdown passes in the Cowboys’ 38-27 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

In October last season, I wrote a post noting how I had completely lost faith in Jason Garrett. Dallas had just lost a game to the Detroit Lions even though Dallas had the ball in Detroit territory with less than 90 seconds remaining in the game.

It looked as if the Cowboys might add another signature loss to Garrett’s resume. Dallas had a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter but watched that lead evaporate. When Darren Sproles scored with 5:42 left in the third quarter, the lead was gone.

What Dallas did on the ensuing drive after the Sproles touchdown could be a defining moment of the season. In four plays, Dallas moved the ball into Philadelphia territory. From the Eagle 44, DeMarco Murray made a tough run off left tackle and rumbled 21 yards to the Eagle 23. Tony Romo then hit Dez Bryant down to the 2, and Murray scored from there. The Cowboys did not trail again.

It was Murray’s second touchdown of the game. The Eagles contained him for the most part, but he made some critical runs when they mattered most.

The real hero on offense, though, was Bryant, who scored two touchdowns in the first half. After J.J. Wilcox recorded an interception in Eagle territory on the final play of the third quarter, the Cowboys were again in scoring position. Bryant scored his third touchdown to increase the Dallas lead to 11.

The Eagles never gave up and cut the Dallas lead to 35-27 on the next drive before holding Dallas to a three and out.

It looked as if Philadelphia had made a first down on the next drive, but tight end Brent Celek lost the ball on what was first called a first-down reception. The replay showed that he fumbled the ball. The Cowboys could not score a touchdown after taking the ball in Eagle territory again, but Dan Bailey’s field goal gave the Cowboys a 38-27 lead.

Bruce Carter put the game away by intercepting a Mark Sanchez pass with less than two minutes remaining.

At 10-4, Dallas controls its destiny. Wins over the Colts and Redskins guarantee an NFC East title. We need not discuss right now what happens if Dallas loses either of those games.

 

Dallas Cowboys: Ten Pivotal Regular Season Games, Part 6 (1991)

This is the sixth part of a ten-part series focusing on ten pivotal regular season games in the history of the Dallas Cowboys.

Not all famous games will appear on this list. For example, Roger Staubach’s final regular-season game against the Redskins was unforgettable, but the Cowboys turned around two weeks later and lost to the Rams in the playoffs.

Instead, this series focuses on games that marked turning points—good and bad—in franchise history.

Steve Beuerlein came to the rescue in a 1991 game at Washington.

Steve Beuerlein came to the rescue in a 1991 game at Washington.

November 24, 1991

Dallas 24, Washington 21

“A Dynasty Is Born”

By 1991, the Dallas Cowboys had rebounded from two years as the league’s worst team to become a mediocre team. The 1990 squad just missed the playoffs with a 7-9 record, thanks largely to horrific performances by backup quarterback Babe Laufenberg, who filled in for an injured Troy Aikman during the final two games.

The 1991 squad won four straight during September and October to improve to 5-2. However, the team then lost three of four, including a 22-9 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in Week 12.

On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Dallas had to travel to Washington to face the undefeated Redskins. Washington had come from behind to beat the Cowboys in September, and the Redskins had beaten the Steelers 41-14 one week before hosting Dallas.

Despite a start that included an interception return for a touchdown by Washington’s Martin Mayhew, the Cowboys managed to take a 14-7 halftime lead thanks to an Emmitt Smith touchdown and a Hail Mary play to Alvin Harper in the end zone just before the end of the second quarter.

However, it was hard not to think of the 1990 season when Aikman went down again with an injury. The backup in 1991 was former Notre Dame player and former Raider Steve Beuerlein, who had thrown only five passes in 1991 before replacing Aikman.

Early in the fourth quarter, though, Beuerlein found Michael Irvin on what turned out to be a 24-yard touchdown pass. The Cowboys held off a Washington rally and handed the Redskins their first defeat of the season.

Dallas did not lose another regular season game in 1991 and even beat Chicago at Soldier Field that season. Dallas lost to Detroit in the second round of the playoffs, but the franchise’s fortunes had changed.

Consider this: Between the first game of the 1988 season and the Week 13 game at Washington, Dallas had a combined record of 17-42 with no playoff appearances.

Between the Week 13 win at Washington and the end of the 1995 season, Dallas recorded an overall record of 54-15 during the regular season with a playoff record of 11-2.

That, friends, was a dynasty.

Previously:

Part 1, December 5, 1965: “A Loser No More”—Dallas 21, Philadelphia 19

Part 2, November 22, 1970: “Road to the Super Bowl Begins in Washington”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 3, November 7, 1971: “The Dodger Era Begins”—Dallas 16, St. Louis 13

Part 4, December 13, 1975: “Wildcard Berth It Is”—Dallas 31, Washington 10

Part 5, November 2, 1986: “Goodbye Danny, So Long America’s Team”— New York Giants 17, Dallas 14

Dallas 41, Chicago 28: 8-8 No More

DeMarco Murray touched the ball 41 times in the Cowboys' 41-28 win over the Chicago Bears.

DeMarco Murray touched the ball 41 times in the Cowboys’ 41-28 win over the Chicago Bears.

I have made no secret that I thought the Cowboys would go 3-13 this season. Had I been right, the Cowboys would have traveled to Chicago tonight with nothing on the line.

Instead, Dallas remains in the playoff hunt. And the team needed a win against the Bears to help its chances in that playoff hunt.

The result: Dallas jumped out to a 35-7 fourth quarter lead and held on to win 41-28. The win was the Cowboys’ ninth of the season and guarantees the first winning season since 2009.

DeMarco Murray was amazing, touching the ball 41 times. He rushed for 179 yards and added another 49 receiving yards. He scored the first touchdown of the game in the second quarter.

Receiver Cole Beasley only caught three passes, but two of them were touchdowns, and he was tackled at the half-yard line on the other. He also recovered an onside kick attempt in the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys have had problems holding on to leads during the Jason Garrett era, and it appeared that Dallas might struggle to hang on to its 28-point fourth-quarter lead.

Chicago scored early in the quarter. The Bears scored again, then recovered an onside kick when Gavin Escobar could not hang on to the ball. When Jay Cutler rushed for a touchdown with just over six minutes left, the Dallas lead was only ten at 38-28.

But Dallas recovered the next onside kick attempt, then drove the ball inside the Chicago 20. A field goal gave Dallas a 13-point lead.

The Bears nearly scored again late in the game, but Orlando Scandrick picked off a Cutler pass in the end zone, effectively ending the game.

Dallas is off for 10 days before playing the Philadelphia Eagles a week from Sunday.