2:31 AM EST, December 2, 2013
NFL Team Report - Dallas Cowboys - INSIDE SLANT
The Dallas Cowboys are right where they want to be.
They are 7-5 in a tie with the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East.
They are two games over .500 for the first time since last December and courtesy of a 4-0 record in the division, the Cowboys control their own destiny for the division title and the playoffs.
The question now is how will they finish.
In 2011, they lost four of their last five to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs. In 2012, they lost their final two games to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs.
Both times they lost season-ending games that would have given them the division title and the playoffs.
That's why Thursday's 31-24 comeback victory against the Raiders was so important to the Cowboys in terms of building confidence and momentum heading into the final month of December.
When the Raiders got a fumble return for a touchdown to open the game and then took a 21-7 lead, there were a lot of fans wondering if this was going to be the same old, same old from a Cowboys team that has a win-one, lose-one history for more than a decade.
It wasn't just the fans that felt that one, the Cowboys said the same to each other during an emotional halftime locker room. They were down 21-14 after a late touchdown, but the players, especially the members of the defense, were upset at their performance in the half and vowed to make amends in the second half.
"It was a lot of upset people in here," defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. "We know how we should play. We said, 'We can't lose this game. If we lose this game, we are back to the old team ... up and down.' We are not wanting that this season."
The Cowboys came up with their most complete second half performance of the season in the 31-24 victory, per Ware.
"I think everything is starting to build at the right time," Ware said. "This team is molding to be the team we need to be. We got to keep getting wins and keep this going forward."
The Cowboys now have 11 days off before the Dec. 9 matchup at the Chicago Bears, giving them time to heal up and get some injured guys back for the final month of the season.
After the road game against the Bears, the Cowboys face the Packers on Dec. 15 then travel to Washington on Dec. 22 before ending the season at home against the Eagles on Dec. 29.
Owner Jerry Jones thinks it may come to the last game against the Eagles. But he wants the Cowboys to continue to build momentum and hopefully go in the playoffs on a roll.
"I still think that it's going to come down to beating the Eagles," Jones said. "Then again, I'm not forgetting about Washington. We've got these two away, two at home, formidable teams. Two of them are neck and neck. One of them will probably get (Aaron) Rodgers back, so those will be big games for us. Chicago on the road. Washington on the road. Believe you me, they're going to sit here with some resolve after a game like they had the other night. So we've got our hands full. This will be a good test for us. If we can come through this thing and somehow get them and have some success and maybe have a chance for the playoffs, we'll have run a good gauntlet that gets us ready if we don't get hurt in a key spot."
"We just need to win some games," quarterback Tony Romo said. "I think more than anything else you've just got to keep stacking wins together and see where you're at at the end. Our football team continues to try to improve each week that goes by and I think we're playing some of our better football right now."
NFL Team Report - Dallas Cowboys - NOTES, QUOTES
--Quarterback Tony Romo downplayed his gutsy effort against the Raiders. But there is no denying his competitiveness, leadership and toughness after he played through a stomach virus to kead the Cowboys to victory on Thanksgiving Day.
Romo couldn't hold down any food on Wednesday night and had to take IVs and meds Thursday morning.
Romo completed 23-of-32 passes (71.9 percent) for 225 yards and one touchdown in the game. More important, he was 17 of 19, including 12 of 12 in the second half, after the Cowboys fell behind 21-7 to help lead the comeback.
"He's just a gamer," an impressed owner Jerry Jones said. "He's showed us that time and time again. He protected the ball. He played within himself. I was proud to see him take over."
--The Cowboys knew the Raiders were going to try to run against them on Thursday. They had allowed more than 400 yards rushing the previous two games and the Raiders came into the game averaging 140.6 yards per game on the ground.
But the Cowboys surprisingly held the Raiders to just 50 yards rushing.
Said defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. "We just going to keep doing it in this scheme and keep playing hard. This scheme is kinda coming together for us. Watching them on film, (assistant) coach Tony Sparano believes in running the ball. We were able to shut them down and we did an awesome job and hopefully we can keep doing it. That's been our nemesis all year. We've been getting gashed. Hopefully we found something in the run game."
NFL Team Report - Dallas Cowboys - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--LB Ernie Sims started at middle linebacker for the second straight game in place of the injured Sean Lee and he continued to struggle. Sims had just two tackles against the Raiders.
--LB Kyle Wilber may have found a home at stong-side linebacker after starting there the past two games in place of the injured Justin Durant. Wilber had seven tackles against the Giants last week after recording just 11 in the first 10 games. He followed with four tackles, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery that led to a DeMarco Murray touchdown against the Raiders.
--WR Dez Bryant caught seven passes for 61 yards and a touchdown against the Raiders. He now has 268 career catches to pass Billy Joe DuPree (267) for 13th in franchise history. Bryant also now has 3,767 career receiving yards and passed Doug Cosbie (3,728) for eighth in receiving yards in team history.
--P Chris Jones had one punt downed inside the 20-yard line which gave him 27 for the season to move into fourth in a season in team history.
--RB DeMarco Murray rushed 17 times for 63 yards and three touchdowns against the Raiders -- his first career multiple touchdown game. Murray's three rushing touchdowns was the first multiple rushing touchdown game by a Cowboys player since Marion Barber had two at New Orleans on Dec. 19, 2009. It was the first three-rushing score game by a Cowboys player since Julius Jones had three at Seattle on Dec. 6, 2004. Murray's three rushing scores was the 18th time a Cowboys player had three-or-more rushing touchdowns in a game. Murray is the eighth different Dallas rusher to accomplish the feat. Murray has seven rushing touchdowns on the season, the most since Marion Barber had seven in 2009.
--TE Jason Witten appeared in his 167th straight game against the Raiders. His 167 consecutive games played ties Tom Rafferty (1976-87) for the fourth-most consecutive games played in a Cowboys uniform. Cornell Green (168, 1962-74), Dale Hellestrae (176, 1990-2000) and Bob Lilly (196, 1961-74) hold the top three spots. Witten now has 622 yards this season for his 10th career and 10th consecutive 600-yard season. His 10 overall are third all-time among tight ends while his 10 consecutive are second.
--RB Lance Dunbar suffered a season-ending knee injury that will require surgery. Dunbar rushed a career-high 12 times for a career-best 82 yards with a career-long 45-yarder against the Raiders. Dunbar's 45-yard run was also a team season-long.
REPORT CARD VS. THE RAIDERS
PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Quarterback Tony Romo completed 23 of 32 passes for 225 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Romo had a passer rating of 101.7. Most important, Romo was at his best after the Cowboys fell behind 21-7. From the last drive of the second quarter to the end of the game, Romo completed 17 of his last 19 passes, including 12 of 12 in the second half.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- The Cowboys rushed 30 times for 144 yards. DeMarco Murray rushed 17 times for 63 yards with three touchdowns, and Lance Dunbar rushed for a game-high 82 yards on 12 carries before leaving in the fourth quarter with a knee injury.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Raiders made several big plays in the air in the first half as quarterback Matt McGloin was able to complete 11 of 15 passes for 146 yards in the first two quarters. He was only seven of 15 after halftime for 109 yards as the Cowboys defense shut down the Raiders. Cornerback Brandon Carr, who gave up several big plays in the first half, had an interception in the end zone to kill the Raiders' only legitimate scoring threat.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Cowboys held the Raiders to 50 yards on the ground and just 2.0 yards per carry. The Raiders rushed for just 11 yards in the second half. The Cowboys came into the game as the league's 30th-ranked run defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The Cowboys really missed receiver Dwayne Harris on returns. It was obvious on the opening kickoff when Terrance Williams fumbled the ball and the Raiders returned it for a touchdown, putting the Cowboys in an early hole. Cole Beasley gained 27 yards on five punt returns in place of Harris. Chris Jones averaged 47.6 yards on five punts. Dan Bailey made his only field -goal attempt.
COACHING: A -- It wasn't a clean effort, but the Cowboys got the job done with their second straight win. The Cowboys didn't panic after falling behind 21-7. Give coach Jason Garrett credit for keeping his team's head in the game.
Copyright © 2013, Reuters