The Dallas Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles 38-33, but this was far from a performance that should leave the Cowboys feeling much better about their playoff chances. We all know that the defense is banged up, but letting rookie quarterback Nick Foles have that much time to throw the football is really not acceptable. Rookie running back Bryce Brown is a great young talent, but he shouldn't be gashing this defense for 7.0 yards per carry.
This four-game stretch is going to be very difficult for the Cowboys. I hate not being positive about the Cowboys' chances, but I don't know if this team can even win one of these games. Each team remaining on the schedule are going to give Dallas a very difficult game. Even though the offense finally got rolling, last night's performance shows that the Cowboys are a flawed team with too many injuries to overcome.
Let's try to look at the positives from the game and move forward. No matter how they do it, we must give the Cowboys their props for hanging tough and leaving everything out there on the field. At this point in the season, I don't know if we can really ask for too much more.
This team has desperately missed the physical running of Murray the last six games. In his six-game absence, all Murray could do was sit on the sideline in frustration and watch the Cowboys' running game struggle. Murray was the spark plug that the Cowboys needed in order to get their running game back on track. He doesn't just bring more talent to the backfield, Murray also brings an attitude that is lacking without him.
It was clear from the first offensive play of the game for the Cowboys that Murray wasn't completely healthy. While he still looked physical, powerful and quick, you could tell that he was limping. Murray probably wanted to return earlier and play the past few weeks, but the Cowboys were doing the right thing by sitting him so he wouldn't risk more damage to his foot.
Murray's vision is usually very good, but there were times where he made the wrong cut or couldn't bounce it outside (probably due to him not being 100 percent) and decided to run into a few Eagles and punish them physically. Hopefully he can make it through these last four games healthy. It would really disappointing to watch him re-injure that sprained foot and have to go through an extensive rehab.
The stat line may not be overly impressive (23 carries for 83 yards and one touchdown), but Murray brought an instant change to the offense last night. If Murray was completely healthy, he easily would have rushed for more yards against the Eagles.
Perhaps the biggest benefactor of Murray's return was Tony Romo. Romo has been playing at a very high level the past few weeks without a running game. Todd Archer of ESPNDallas writes that since that devastating loss at home to the New York Giants, Romo has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
He has completed 138-of-200 passes for 1,587 yards. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes and been intercepted just twice.
Romo’s completion percentage (69%) is second during the last five games by a tenth of a point to Washington’s Robert Griffin III. His touchdown passes are third most. His yards are fourth most. His attempts are fourth most. His completions are second most. His 105.5 quarterback rating is fourth best.
Romo has had some accuracy issues this season where he misses a simple throw at a key moment, but it's hard to sit here and nitpick him for that. It's extremely impressive that Romo has been playing that well with the lack of a running game and a consistent offensive line.
With Murray back on the field, Romo was able to get into a rhythm. The defense had to respect the running game this time, and that opened up the field for Romo to pick the Eagles apart. The play-action fake on Romo's 27-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin was a thing of beauty. When you can run the football, you can execute that play late in games for big plays.
This was easily one of Romo's best games of the season. He went 10 for 10 in the second half, completing all of his pass attempts and threw for three touchdowns. Tony Romo is now the all-time franchise leader with 168 touchdown passes. With so many teams in the NFL looking for a quarterback, it's probably time we take a moment and appreciate how good Romo has been in Dallas over his career.
One of the highlights in this 6-6 season has been the transformation of Dez Bryant. Not too long ago, many wanted to sever all ties with Bryant and completely start over at wide receiver. This is one of the most talented and physically gifted players in the NFL. It was extremely frustrating watching him turn the ball over or make a mental mistake earlier in the season, but Dez is beginning to develop into an elite wide receiver.
Don't just take my word for it, take Jason Garrett's.
"Dez is growing before our eyes, and you’ve heard me say that before," said head coach Jason Garrett. "He’s really becoming a more consistent player, and week in and week out he seems to be making a lot of plays for us. The first touchdown I thought was outstanding."
Perhaps the biggest play of the game came in the fourth quarter on a 3rd and 2. This was crunch time and the Cowboys could have run a variety of plays here, but they put the ball in Romo's hands and let him make a play. Romo dropped a perfect pass right on to Bryant who had a step on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Dez makes a great catch, in the clutch, and takes a powerful blow from safety Kurt Coleman. That 35-yard gain was a huge play that set the Cowboys up to take control late in the game.
Just a few plays later, Dez plows through Rodgers-Cromartie for a 6-yard touchdown pass that put the Cowboys up 31-27. One criticism of Bryant has been that he doesn't show up in the second half. That hasn't been the case with Dez in 2012 and he continues to play his best football late in games. Bryant has 45 catches for 623 yards and 8 touchdowns in third quarter or later this season. No matter how you look at it, those are very impressive numbers.
Bryant is finally becoming an elite wide receiver.