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Notebook: Murray Sparks Team; Claiborne Redeems Himself
ARLINGTON, Texas – The Cowboys have been desperately waiting for the return of DeMarco Murray for six weeks. Since injuring his foot against the Baltimore Ravens in October, the Cowboys have become the worst rushing team in the NFL.
On Sunday night, Murray made his long-awaited return to the starting lineup and the impact was noticed immediately. In their first offensive play of the game, the Cowboys handed the ball to Murray for a 14-yard gain. On the very next play, he ran for another 8 yards. The message was clear: It was time to start respecting the Cowboys’ running game.
Despite still feeling the effects of the injured foot, Murray ran the ball 23 times. He accumulated 83 yards and a touchdown. He also had four receptions for 19 yards. In total, the Cowboys ran the ball 33 times against the Eagles. In the Thanksgiving loss to the Washington Redskins, the Cowboys ran the ball on only 11 snaps.
Murray came out at various points throughout the game, citing pain in his recovering foot. The fact that he was able to shoulder such a high number of carries while playing at less than 100 percent was no doubt a huge advantage for the Cowboys. Murray talked about how his foot responded in his return to action.
“It got tweaked about two or three times, but after a few plays, a few minutes, it was okay.”
Jerry Jones talked after the game about what he saw from his starting running back.
“I thought his effort was outstanding,” Jones said. “He was a little ginger there and it showed. But he didn’t let it show too much.”
While Murray’s discomfort might have been noticeable, fullback Lawrence Vickers never questioned that Murray was mentally prepared to play in the game.
“If you know DeMarco, you know that he’s been ready to play for a long time,” Vickers said. “I thought he was ready from the first day he hurt himself, if you know DeMarco.”
The last time the Cowboys faced the Eagles, Morris Claiborne had the worst game of his young career. The rookie cornerback gave up a touchdown and committed five penalties, but the Cowboys managed to win despite his struggles.
This time around, Claiborne saw a chance to make something big happen and he took advantage.
With 4:03 left in the game and the Eagles attempting to erase a four-point deficit, they handed the ball to Bryce Brown. As he ran up the middle, nose tackle Josh Brent stripped the ball from him. It popped out a few feet away from Claiborne and he picked it up and ran 50 yards for a touchdown.
It was the first career touchdown for Claiborne, who had made a name for himself as a playmaker in college. After the game, he talked about the play that Cowboy fans had been waiting to see some version of since Dallas drafted him N0. 6 overall last April.
“As soon as I saw it popped up, there was nothing but green grass,” Claiborne said. “I was already thinking touchdown.”
Claiborne was asked whether he thought the play, which just about sealed the win for Dallas, was redemption for his performance in the last Philadelphia game.
“I guess so,” Claiborne said. “That’s all part of the game. The penalties that I had the last game were all part of the game. I’m just fortunate and blessed and thankful we came out with a win.”
Special Teams Falter Late
Special teams had been a strong point for the Cowboys the past few weeks. The emergence of Dwayne Harris as a returner had been a positive step for the team. Dan Baily has been consistent all season. There were few hiccups in the punting game.
With an 11-point lead and 1:52 left in the fourth quarter, a victory seemed all but secured. But a 63-yard punt by Brian Mooreman was fielded by Demaris Johnson at the 2-yard line. Johnson dodged a number of tackles and took the punt 98-yards for a touchdown.
The mishap will likely be forgotten in the grand scheme of things, but it very nearly could have led to a disastrous collapse.
Fortunately, the Cowboys’ special teams were able to partially redeem themselves as the Eagles were forced to resort to an onside kick. The Cowboys responded calmly and Jason Witten caught the kick and immediately hit the ground securing the win for Dallas.
Next week, the Cowboys will face the Cincinnati Bengals and their return man, a relatively familiar face: Adam “Pacman” Jones who played for the Cowboys in 2008. Jones has already returned a punt for a touchdown this season and is averaging nearly 15 yards per return.
Dez Bryant caught six passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns. His two scores gave him his fourth consecutive game with a touchdown catch, the longest streak in his career.
Bryant now has 23 career touchdown catches, passing Jay Novacek (22) to tie Patrick Crayton for 12th in franchise history.
Bryant’s 98 receiving yards gave him 988 for the season to establish a career-best. His previous was his 928 yards set last season.
Tony Romo’s 81.5 completion percentage gave him seven games this season with a completion percentage at or above 70.0 to tie Aikman (1995) for the second-most games of 70.0 percent-or-more in a season in franchise history. Aikman has the club high with eight in 1993.
Romo had a passer rating of 150.5. It was his single-game career high, and it was his 47th career game with a rating above 100.0 to establish a club record and rank fourth in the NFL since 2006.
In the second half of the game, Romo was 10 of 10 for 169 yards and three touchdowns. It was the second time in his career that he’s completed all of his second half passes. The first time was at Arizona (Nov. 12, 2006) when he went 10 of 10 for 144 yards with one touchdown.
Romo’s three fourth-quarter touchdowns were the most fourth quarter touchdowns in his career and the most in recent Cowboys history, dating back to 1991.
Jason Witten finished the game with six catches for 108 yards. His 108 yards upped his club tight end record of 100-yard games to 17.
Witten’s 108 yards upped his season yardage total to 818, his seventh career season with at least 800 yards. In team history, Witten’s seven are tied with Tony Hill for the second-most 800-yard seasons behind Michael Irvin’s eight. His seven are also second behind Tony Gonzalez’ 11 all-time among league tight ends.