It didn't happen this way, of course, but for all intents and purposes, this conversation could have taken place before the Dallas Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears.
Jason Garrett: We have to have this win. And we need to get back as a team to what we were doing earlier in the season. That was controlling the ball, the clock, and the line of scrimmage on offense. During the 6-0 run, you put the team on your back and carried it. Tony Romo is still hurting, and we can't rely on him to take the game over.
Scott Linehan: That is going to mean a lot of carries. A lot. We are going to feed you the ball as long as you can keep moving it.
DeMarco Murray: Yeah.
Linehan: Really, we are talking about a lot of carries. Career high-type numbers. Maybe team records.
Murray: (Shrugs.) That's my job.
From all accounts, that is the way things are with the league's leading rusher. Against the Bears, he did that job to the tune of 32 carries for 179 yards and a touchdown, plus 9 receptions for 49 yards. The Cowboys only ran 62 offensive plays in the game, and Murray carried or caught the ball on 41 of them (plus was targeted on one incomplete pass). On all but 20 snaps, he was the offense. And to judge from his somewhat sparse remarks to the media, it is all just another day at the office to him.
This isn't so much giving him a game ball, just telling him to hang on to the ball a bit longer.
Murray has already set a number of team and league records, and has very realistic chances at some even bigger ones. With the team really needing a win to get over the Thanksgiving Day embarrassment against the Philadelphia Eagles, he could not have picked a better day to have a season best rushing total to go along with the career number of carries and receptions.
But this was about so much more than individual accomplishments. It was about the Cowboys getting back to the identity that they established in the first half of the season. That identity was a true throwback to being a run first, smash-mouth team, where the quarterback was expected to be efficient but not dominant. Those big guys up front would establish control of the line, and the running back (or backs) would exploit that control. This allowed the OC to pick his spots with the passing game and (no small thing given Romo's situation) would reduce pressure and wear and tear on the quarterback. To do that, you either need a group of backs, or one workhorse who doesn't seem to mind how often you feed him the ball.
That is what Murray brought back with his performance and his endurance. He is a true workhorse, and despite his issues in previous seasons, he has not shown any signs the heavy load is having any effect. He deserves a lot of credit. While running the ball is, indeed, a team effort, you still have to have someone who can carry the ball effectively. For those who think you can plug anyone into the job, you might want to look up Troy Hambrick.
What is somewhat ironic about all this is that this looks more and more like Murray's last year with the Cowboys, so they are going to be forced to attempt to find someone who can replace him effectively. Given the other players that Dallas is going to have to try to re-sign, Murray is pushing his own price tag too high. He will almost certainly be able to find a team that will offer him a much nicer contract than Dallas will be able to put forward.
And there seems to be absolutely no ill will on either side in this. Everyone understands it is just part of life under the salary cap and the relative merits of the different positions, where running back is arguably the easiest to replace on the roster.
That is all for after the season. Right now, everyone involved is focused on keeping things going. Dallas has locked up the first winning season since 2009, but it is a strange year in the NFL, with the teams bunching up at either the bottom or the top of the standings. Going into week 14, there was exactly one team sitting at .500, the Houston Texans. Ten wins is no guarantee to make the playoffs, and eleven may still fall short. There is no time for Murray or the Cowboys to rest on their laurels. The rematch with the Eagles is next, and the Cowboys need a very different outcome this time.
Prior to the Bears game, the confidence level was down, at least among the fans. Now, it has jumped up a lot. A great deal of credit for that goes to Murray. And so does this week's game ball.