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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.

Philadelphia 33, Dallas 10: No Thanks

Many of us looked like this for three hours on Thursday.

Many of us looked like this for three hours on Thursday.

Last Sunday evening, the Giants tore through the Dallas defense to take a 21-10 lead. The Cowboys might have had a much more difficult time coming back had Barry Church not picked off an Eli Manning pass in the third quarter, after which Dallas scored to take the lead. Of course, Dallas won the game after a clutch drive in the final two minutes.

On Thanksgiving Day, the Eagles made it look even easier to run through the Dallas defense. With the Eagles leading 23-7 in the third quarter, it looked like Dallas got another big break in the form of a turnover. The Cowboys stripped LeSean McCoy from the ball and recovered at the Philadelphia 13. DeMarco Murray then gained nine yards on first down, giving Dallas a 2nd-and-1 from the Philadelphia 4.

A touchdown would mean the Cowboys would cut the lead to 9 with about 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter. That would have been a manageable deficit.

Instead, the Cowboys lost a total of six yards on the next two plays and had to settle for a field goal. The deficit was still 13.

And the Dallas defense still could not stop the Eagles. On the next drive, Philadelphia went 80 yards on six plays, capped off by a 38-yard touchdown run by McCoy. The touchdown extended the Eagle lead to 30-10 and ended the competitive phase of the game.

Romo played his worst game of the season, throwing for less than 200 yards with two interceptions. The Eagles contained the entire Dallas offense, holding Murray to 73 rushing yards and Dez Bryant to 73 receiving yards. McCoy outgained their combined yardage total with 159 rushing yards.

The loss drops Dallas (8-4) to second place in the NFC East with four games remaining. In the wildcard race, the Seahawks and Lions both have 8-4 records as well. Dallas would win the tiebreaker with Seattle because of the Cowboys’ win over the Seahawks earlier this season. Detroit, however, has a better conference record than Dallas.

Even worse, Seattle looks like it is on a roll, winning two straight without giving up a touchdown. The Lions ended a two-game losing streak by beating Chicago today, and Detroit faces Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Chicago during the next three weeks.

Dallas 31, Jacksonville 17: Redemption Was Across the Pond

Today belonged to Dez Bryant, who hauled in six receptions for 158 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Today belonged to Dez Bryant, who hauled in six receptions for 158 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It looked for a little while that a complete change of scenery for the Dallas Cowboys—of course, meaning a trip to London—may not have cured the Cowboys of their problems during the past two games.

Tony Romo missed a wide open Jason Witten on the Cowboys’ opening drive, and Dallas had to settle for a 54-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.

Then the Dallas defense had trouble stopping Jacksonville. Denard Robinson ran free on a 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against a Dallas defense that has struggled. The 1-8 Jaguars had an early 7-3 lead and then forced the Cowboys to punt on the next possession.

Fortunately for the Cowboys, the Jaguars were 1-8 for a reason. Ace Sanders muffed a punt, and the Cowboys recovered. Two plays later, Romo did not miss Witten in the end zone, and the Cowboys regained the lead—for good.

The Cowboys never looked back in the second quarter thanks to The Dez Bryant Show.

Bryant took a short pass on a crossing route and turned it into a 35-yard touchdown. Then, with 31 seconds remaining in the half, Bryant hauled in a bomb and ran it in the rest of the way for a 68-yard touchdown. The halftime score of 24-7 was just what the Cowboys needed.

Joseph Randle added another nice looking 40-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and the Cowboys were able to run the clock out for their seventh win of the season.

Dallas could take another half-game lead in the division if Philadelphia loses on Monday night to Carolina. Dallas has a half-game lead over Green Bay and Seattle in the NFC.

Washington 20, Dallas 17: Perhaps It Was Just a Night Without Magic

Jason Witten's second touchdown in 2014 tied the game on Monday night, but the Cowboys fell in overtime to the Washington Redskins, 20-17.

Jason Witten’s second touchdown in 2014 tied the game on Monday night, but the Cowboys fell in overtime to the Washington Redskins, 20-17.

A night of some perhaps.

It was perhaps a matter of time before the Tony Romo’s surgically repaired back would give out and cause him to miss playing time.

That occurred with just under eight minutes left in the third quarter of Monday night’s game against the Washington Redskins. Romo was in obvious pain and went to the locker room for most of the second half.

He returned, but he was unable to lead Dallas to an overtime win. Washington kicked a field goal and then stopped Dallas on its only overtime possession to pull out the 20-17 win. The loss dropped the Cowboys to 6-2.

Perhaps it was a matter of time before DeMarco Murray’s fumbles became especially costly.

He had a great catch-and-run early in the second quarter, but after gaining 36 yards inside the Washington 10, he fumbled for the fifth time this season. At the time, Dallas trailed 3-0 and looked like it would take the lead.

Although the Cowboys went into the half with a 7-3 lead, a touchdown after the Murray play could have allowed the Cowboys build a more sizable advantage before halftime.

Instead, the Cowboys four-point lead turned into a three-point deficit when Washington took the second-half kickoff and marched 80 yards for a go-ahead score.

Which leads us to the final perhaps—

Perhaps it was time that this no-name defense could not save the day.

With Romo heading to the locker room, the defense forced a three-and-out. However, after the Cowboys tied the game at 10 in the third quarter, the defense looked vulnerable.

DeSean Jackson burned the Dallas secondary for a 45-yard gain on the final play of the third quarter. It was his second gain of more than 40 yards during the game, and the second play set up a touchdown run by quarterback Colt McCoy.

Yes, that Colt McCoy. The former Texas Longhorn, Cleveland Brown, and Redskin third-stringer sliced up the Dallas defense for nearly 300 passing yards. Washington entered the game with one of the worst third-down percentages in the league. Against the Cowboys late in the game, however, the Redskins converted a number of key third downs.

Thanks to backup quarterback Brandon Weeden, the Cowboys stayed in the game in the fourth quarter. He led the Cowboys on two second-half scoring drives. Dallas forced a Washington punt at the two-minute warning with the game tied at 17.

A bonus perhaps—it was perhaps through the miracle of modern medicine that Tony Romo left the locker room and reentered the game to try to engineer a game-winning drive.

Whether Romo should have returned will be a point of debate all week. At that point, Weeden had led the Cowboys on two scoring drives. Romo was obviously not going to be mobile in his condition.

Facing heavy pressure with just over a minute to play, Romo fumbled the ball at the Dallas 5. Though Murray recovered and Dallas managed a first down to keep the drive alive, the Cowboys could not move the ball past their own 28. In fact, on 3rd and 1 from the 28, Romo was called for intentional grounding, forcing the Cowboys to punt.

The Redskins had little trouble moving the ball 58 yards in overtime to set up what would be the game-winning field goal.

Dallas could not manage a single first down on its drive, ending the game.

The Cowboys still lead the NFC East by a half-game, but a win would have given Dallas some breathing room. The Cowboys now have a short week before facing the Arizona Cardinals at home on Sunday afternoon.

Dallas 31, New York Giants 21: Overcoming Shots to the Foot

DeMarco Murray is now the only player in NFL history to open a season with seven consecutive 100-yard games.

DeMarco Murray is now the only player in NFL history to open a season with seven consecutive 100-yard games.

Almost exactly seven years ago, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Minnesota Vikings to improve to 6-1. No Dallas team since then has recorded that record.

After that game seven years ago, I wrote:

The Cowboys did everything they could to give Minnesota a chance to win today, but the Dallas efforts weren’t enough. All joking aside, today’s heroes included one likely source– Marion Barber– and a couple of the least likely sources, including Chris Canty and Patrick Watkins.

In beating the Giants on Sunday in 2014, Dallas did what it could to give New York the edge. However, at least one unlikely source came through to help Dallas to a 31-21 win.

With the game tied at 7 in the second quarter, Dez Bryant fell down on a route. Tony Romo’s pass fell into the hands of Prince Amukamara, who returned the ball to the Dallas 27. One play later, a touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Daniel Fell gave the Giants a 14-7 lead.

But Dallas marched right back to score a game-tying touchdown with just over two minutes remaining in the half. Once again, Romo’s target on the game-tying touchdown was Terrance Williams, who now has six scores on the year.

But Williams was not the unlikely source. That would be tight end Gavin Escobar. After catching his first touchdown against the Seahawks last week, Escobar grabbed two TD receptions against the Giants. His second touchdown of the day —a great grab up the seam in the middle of the field—gave Dallas a 21-14 lead.

The Cowboys took advantage of a New York fumble in the fourth quarter and extended their lead to 28-14.

Of course, Manning has a way of bringing the Giants from behind against Dallas, and the Cowboys did little to prevent New York from cutting the Dallas lead to 28-21.

But as the Cowboys keep proving, this is just a different year. The Cowboys responded to the Giant touchdown by driving 49 yards in 10 plays to set up Dan Bailey’s field goal, which secured the win for the Cowboys.

DeMarco Murray became the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 100 yards in each of his first seven games of the season. The only player who had rushed for 100 yards in six games to open a season was the great Jim Brown.

With the Eagles on a bye this week, Dallas has a half-game lead in the NFC East.


Dallas 30, Seattle 23: Just a Different Team

Rolando McClain's interception secured the fifth win of the season for the Dallas Cowboys.

Rolando McClain’s interception secured the fifth win of the season for the Dallas Cowboys.

This is your weekly reminder that the Dallas Cowboys are winning games they would have lost during the past four years. Thanks for tuning in.

In 2012, for example, the Cowboys traveled to Seattle after what many thought was a significant win over the New York Giants to open the season.

The Seahawks punched the Cowboys in the mouth, figuratively speaking.  Dallas fumbled the opening kickoff, leading to a Seattle field goal. The Seahawks then returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in the first quarter. Dallas looked defeated before the first quarter ended and eventually lost the game, 27-7.

Two years later, the Cowboys were 4-1 as they headed back to Seattle. The Seahawks seldom lose at home. Most thought Seattle would again punch the Cowboys in the mouth, figuratively speaking, and the Cowboys would limp back to Dallas.

Sure enough, Seattle blocked a punt in the first quarter. Like the 2012 game, Dallas found itself behind 10-0 in the first quarter.

It was ov…

Well, no, it wasn’t over. The Cowboys not only tied the game in the second quarter but also took a 17-10 lead. In fact, Dallas had drives of 10 and 15 plays during the second quarter and held the ball for nearly 75 percent of that quarter.

Even when Dwayne Harris muffed a punt, which Seattle returned for a touchdown, Dallas was not out of it.

Seattle took a three-point lead. Dallas tied it.

Seattle took another three-point lead. With 8:16 remaining, Dallas needed to drive to tie the game.

But then the Cowboys faced a 3rd-and-20 from their own 31. Less than five minutes remained. A punt could allow Seattle to exhaust the clock.

Seattle put pressure on Tony Romo, who limped around much of the game. He somehow managed to escape the rush before releasing a pass in the general direction of both Jason Witten and Terrance Williams.

Williams snagged the ball and dragged his toes inbounds for a 23-yard gain. First down. It was, like many other plays this year, something the Cowboys had not seen in quite some time.

Three plays later, DeMarco Murray gave Dallas a 27-23 lead with a touchdown run. Although the Cowboys were unable to run out the clock on offense, Rolondo McClain’s interception with less than 50 seconds remaining secured the win for Dallas.

Yes, this author predicted a 3-13 finish. That 3-13 team is now 5-1. Who would have thought.

Dallas 20, Houston 17: No More Here We Go Again?

Terrance Williams caught his fifth touchdown pass in Sunday's win over the Houston Texans.

Terrance Williams caught his fifth touchdown pass in Sunday’s win over the Houston Texans.

In 2010, the Dallas Cowboys would have folded in half after blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

They would done the same thing in 2011. And 2012. And 2013.

But this current team is just full of surprises. The Cowboys could not maintain a 17-7 lead in the final three minutes of regulation.

Dallas had a shot to put the game away in regulation, but Dan Bailey missed his first field goal in his last 31 attempts on the final play of the fourth quarter.

In overtime, Houston moved the ball into Dallas territory near midfield but had to punt. The Cowboys got the ball but faced a 3rd-and-8 on their own 32.

From there, Dez Bryant made the highlight-reel pass of the season thus far, hauling in a 37-yard pass to give the Cowboys the ball at the Houston 31.

Two plays later, Bailey redeemed himself, nailing a 49-yarder to give the Cowboys their fourth straight win.

It marks the first time since the Cowboys have had a four-game winning streak.  Dallas has not been 4-1 since 2008.

DeMarco Murray rushed for 136 yards on 31 carries, giving him a total of 670 in only five games. (Have to mention his latest fumble parenthetically, though.) Bryant had nine receptions for 85 yards.

Had Bryant not stolen the show with this overtime reception, the players making the best play would have been Tony Romo and Terrance Williams. Romo dodged J.J. Watt and heaved a pass to Williams in the end zone. The touchdown gave Dallas a 10-7 lead.

Bryant caught a short touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to give Dallas a 17-7 lead.

The Cowboys have a tough game next week as they travel to Seattle.

Dallas 38, New Orleans 17: A Stunning Blowout

The Dallas Cowboys stormed down the field on their opening drive of Sunday night’s game against New Orleans. A touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Terrance Williams gave the Cowboys an early lead.

This marked the first time all season the Cowboys had scored on an opening drive. The first quarter was also the first where the Cowboys did not have to overcome a DeMarco Murray fumble.

But even with the great start, Dallas fans had to be cautious about any optimism. This was the Saints. They were the team that walked all over the Cowboys last season in a 49-17 New Orleans win at the Superdome.

As it turns out, nobody needed to be cautious about being excited until the fourth quarter. Dallas scored 17 points in the second quarter to extend the lead to 24-0 at the half.

Meanwhile, the Saints punted twice, had a pass intercepted, and missed a field goal in the first half.

DeMarco Murray looked nearly unstoppable. Tony Romo did not need to set the world on fire, but he was effective. Everything that failed to work in the 2013 debacle worked on Sunday night.

Then came the fourth quarter. The Cowboys defense that had played so well all game gave up two touchdown drives, and a 31-3 lead became a 31-17 lead.

The Dallas offense stalled on three straight possessions in the third and fourth quarters.

Blow a 28-point lead in the fourth quarter? Surely not.

Well, no, it didn’t happen. The Dallas defense forced a fourth-down play with 7:45 remaining, and the Saints lined up for a punt. Dallas only had ten players on the field.

The Saints called a fake, and punter Thomas Morstead tried to throw a pass for the first down. He wound up face first on the ground.

Seven plays later, Romo hit Dez Bryant on an 18-yard touchdown pass, which iced the game.

This marked the 20th time the Cowboys had led by 24 or more points at the half. The team is now 20-0 in those games.

With the Eagles losing to the 49ers today, Dallas and Philadelphia are now tied for first in the NFC East.

Dallas 34, St. Louis 31: Improbable Life

Bruce Carter recorded not only his first career interception but also his first career touchdown. Good timing.

Bruce Carter recorded not only his first career interception but also his first career touchdown. Good timing.

It came as no big surprise when DeMarco Murray fumbled on the Cowboys’ first offensive drive of Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams. It was the third time in three games that Murray had lost a fumble early in the game.

It was hardly a shock that Tony Romo threw an interception returned for a touchdown in the middle of the second quarter. The score gave the Rams a 21-0 lead with 6:06 remaining in the first half.

Up to that point, the Dallas defense displayed that Can’t St0p Anyone look that opposing offenses love. Dallas made second-year quarterback Austin Davis look like Norm Van Brocklin or Bob Waterfield or Pat Haden (or just help me out here by inserting an old Rams QB you might remember).

Anyway, following Murray’s fumble, Davis threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Brian Quick, who beat Morris Claiborne deep. It was neither the first nor the last time the Rams picked on poor Claiborne, who looked more like one of those just-signed-off-the-street guys than a #6 draft pick.

Only twice in franchise history have the Cowboys won games after trailing by 21 points. In both of those games (1984 vs. New Orleans and 1999 vs. Washington), Dallas won in overtime.

Fortunately, the Cowboys rebounded a bit in the second quarter. They took advantage of a pass interference call in the end zone, giving Dallas the ball at the St. Louis 1 just before the two-minute warning. Murray scored to cut the Ram lead to 21-7.

Davis fumbled a snap a few plays later, and the Cowboys drove down to kick a field goal before halftime.

It had seemed improbable that the Cowboys could erase a 21-point deficit, but Dallas trailed by just 11 points at the half.

It seemed improbable that Romo would be able to lead a comeback, given that his throwing has been off all year thus far.

But on the fourth play of the second half, Romo found a wide open Dez Bryant on a 68-yard touchdown play that cut the St. Louis lead to 21-17.

Midway through the third quarter, a 44-yard run by Murray set up a Dan Bailey field goal. St. Louis 21, Dallas 20.

The Rams kicked a field goal to increase their lead to 4, but Dallas answered with a touchdown drive, giving the Cowboys their first lead, 27-24.

Improbable, it seemed, that the shorthanded defense would make a critical play when the Rams got the ball back. But on the first play after the Dallas touchdown, linebacker Bruce Carter recorded his first career interception and returned the ball for his first career touchdown. Dallas then held a 10-point lead.

The Rams still had life, and Davis continued to pick on Claiborne. Davis’ touchdown pass to Austin Pettis ( who snuck behind Claiborne in the end zone) cut the Dallas lead to 3.

The Cowboys had a chance to put the game away, but Romo was unable to connect on a third-down pass just before the two-minute warning. The Rams got the ball back with 1:58 left to play.

Nearly all of us prayed the Rams would not pick on Claiborne, who had trouble covering anyone.

Improbable at that point for Claiborne to make a key play.

But when Davis threw a deep pass to the left sideline to Quick—the same guy who burned Claiborne earlier in the game—Claiborne made the play, reaching to grab the overthrown pass and secure the win with the interception.

Dallas is now 2-1 and alone in second place in the NFC East. The Eagles are 3-0 after beating Washington.

Dallas 26, Tennessee 10: A Successful Run

DeMarco Murray has franchise marks for rushing yards and rushing attempts after two weeks in a season.

DeMarco Murray has franchise marks for rushing yards and rushing attempts after two weeks in a season.

As expected, much of the talk this week centered on what was wrong with Tony Romo’s head.

Other talk focused on the Dallas defense. Many thought the Tennessee Titans would repeat their efforts from their week 1 win over Kansas City and give the Cowboys all sorts of trouble.

(Admittedly, I thought the Cowboys would struggle.)

Instead, Dallas ran the ball 43 times and won the time of possession 41:11 to 18:49.

The last time the Cowboys ran the ball at least 43 times was 2010 in an overtime win over Indianapolis. The time before that was in 2005. Sunday’s game at Tennessee marked just the tenth time since 2000 that the Cowboys have run the ball at least 43 times.

Their record in those games: 9-1, including the Cowboys’ 26-10 win over the Titans.

DeMarco Murray has looked dominant in two games, despite losing two fumbles in those games. He rushed 29 times for 167 yards and a touchdown on Sunday.

The last Dallas player with at least 29 attempts? Julius Jones in 2005.

Murray’s previous high in rushing attempts was 26 in a 31-7 win over the Rams in 2013.

Murray now has 285 rushing yards. Until now, no Dallas runner ever had as many as 285 yards after two games. The previous high after two weeks was 277, set by Emmitt Smith in 1995.

At this rate, Murray would finish the season with 2,280 yards. Let’s not go overboard with these stats, but he’s looking like an elite back.

The Dallas defense held the Titans to 314 total yards. The Cowboys also had two interceptions, including a great pick by linebacker Rolando McClain.

This marked just the sixth time during the Jason Garrett era where the Cowboys have won by 16 or more points. The Cowboys managed just one win by that margin last year and did not win any times in 2012 by that margin.

The Cowboys and Redskins are now 1-1. The Giants fell to 0-2. The Eagles face the Colts on Monday night.