Dallas’ struggles in December are well documented, so it was probably a good idea to pocket a November win over a scrappy Oakland team.
It wasn’t a virtuoso performance, but this league was never built on style points. If you want style, cue the video of that shootout against the Denver Broncos. Offensive showcase that it was, it still went down as a loss.
What we witnessed Thursday between bites of turkey was a great physical second half by an offense that has more than earned the finesse tag over the years.
This wasn’t one of those days.
The Cowboys recovered from a sluggish first half and thanks to some old-school bruising football by the offensive line and running backs DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar, they are two games over the .500 mark for the first time since last December.
Dallas 31, Oakland 24.
The NFC East isn’t about to be confused with the AFC West. But someone has to win this division and Dallas is the lead horse with four games remaining. At 7-5 with a 4-0 record in the division, the Cowboys are playing with house money at this point, but they can’t assume it will be easy, especially with Romo’s ghastly 11-15 record as a starter in December and games remaining against the Bears and the Packers, who should have quarterback Aaron Rodgers back by the time they visit here Dec. 15.
So a win over the 4-8 Oakland Raiders is every bit as sweet as it would have been had it come against the Broncos or Chiefs.
For once, the Cowboy fortunes didn’t begin and end with Romo. The face of the franchise played the role of game manager in this one, completing 23 of 32 passes for a modest 208 yards and a touchdown, and he was fine with that, because he got sick Wednesday night and didn’t feel much better by the time he arrived at the stadium. More importantly, the run game heated up for 144 yards. Dunbar and Murray combined for 145 yards and Murray added three touchdowns, which were two fewer than the Cowboy scored in all of 2011.
“I think it all starts up front and (offensive line) did a good job,” said coach Jason Garrett. “I felt like we were going to be able to run the football and try to be persistent with the run game against these guys. We didn’t have too many negative runs and they are an aggressive style of defense.”
Dallas ran the ball 30 times and passed it 32 times in one of its most balanced performances of the Garrett era, which bodes well for future games possible bad weather contests at Chicago on Dec. 9 and at Washington on Dec. 22. It was encouraging for this coaching staff to rev up the run game against the AFC’s fourth stingiest run defense.
“(Balance) is very important,” said Murray. “Sometimes we’re clicking, passing the ball more than running and vice versa. People talk balance and things of that nature, but it’s hard to be balanced at certain times and certain situations. Tonight it was a great job offensively by us.”
The Cowboys began the game as if they had gone to the training table for one too many helpings of potato salad in the pregame meal after the Raiders returned Terrance Williams’ fumble on the opening kickoff for a touchdown. After the home team fell behind 21-7, some Cowboy fans had to be wondering how Dallas would excuse another loss to a team it should beat. Would it be Jerry Jones for bringing out those dreaded blue jerseys or would it be Romo for resurrecting the old Sports Illustrated jinx this week?
It turns out that no blame would be needed. Just props. The offensive line played its best game in quite a while. Romo was sacked once in each half but he enjoyed solid protection for the most part. While the big uglies up front aren’t accustomed to getting their hands on the ball, left tackle Tyron Smith made the most of his opportunity after he pounced on a loose ball after Romo fumbled on Dallas’ 23.
Smith’s alert play preserved a 21-21 tie and the Cowboys seized control by running off 10 straight points after cornerback Brandon Carr intercepted Matt McGloin in the end zone.
“I hope people notice how well he’s playing,” Romo said of Smith. “He’s having absolutely a fantastic season, and he keeps getting better and better.”
The Cowboys will now get a weekend and some change to heal up for the final four-game stretch, and that’s welcome news to guys like Dunbar, who hurt his knee in the second half.
Somehow those aches and pains don’t hurt as much when you’re sitting in first place.