LONDON – It was billed all week as a business trip, and that's exactly how the Cowboys made it look Sunday at Wembley Stadium.
The Cowboys halted their two-game losing streak in a no-fuss, 31-17 beating of Jacksonville, putting themselves four games above the .500 mark heading into their long-awaited bye week.
"We knew we needed this win after two tough losses. We needed to get to 7-3 going into the bye," said Jason Witten.
Based on the buildup to the game, it wouldn't have been a surprise to see a sluggish performance from Dallas. Garrett preached all week that the Cowboys' first-ever regular season trip to London was business as usual. That appeared to be undermined Sunday when reports surfaced that 20 or more Cowboys players had broken curfew Friday night ahead of the game.
"There were a lot of great Winston Churchill quotes, we heard a few of these – 'A lie makes it halfway around the world before the truth can get out of bed and put its pants on," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "We had one bed check last night and everybody was fine."
Whatever concerns there might have been, they were quashed in a dominant second quarter by the Dallas offense – spurred by the return of Tony Romo and the resurgence of Dez Bryant. Romo, coming off a back injury suffered two weeks ago, went an impressive 20-of-27 for 246 yards and three touchdowns on the night.
Romo put the Cowboys ahead with 2:30 remaining in the first quarter when he scrambled to find Witten for a two-yard score. Dallas would not trail again in the remaining 47:30 of regulation.
"I thought Tony did an unbelievable job showing his toughness, and just grit that he had to come back after one week, with that injury, and play as well as he did," Witten said.
Romo's real damage came thanks to Bryant – who demolished the Jacksonville defense in a virtuoso second quarter performance. Bryant finished the night with six catches for 158 yards – all of those coming in the second quarter.
"I feel like the ultimate competitors, they want to make a difference. When the opportunity comes, try to make the most of it," Bryant said.
Bryant tore through the Jacksonville defense for two of the Cowboys' four touchdowns, and he abused Jaguar defenders every step of the way. Romo found him on a shallow crossing route with Dallas leading, 10-7, and he sped down the Dallas sideline, ripping through tackles for a 35-yard score.
"On the drag route that he caught underneath it, he did a great job breaking tackles and really running with reckless abandon," Garrett said. "It was a heck of a play and really a game-changing play for us."
Seven minutes later, with just 30 seconds left in the first half, Romo saw Dez in one-on-one coverage and uncorked a long bomb, which Bryant reeled in – fighting off tacklers once again, this time for a 68-yard touchdown.
"We talk about being explosive – it's something Coach Dooley continues to keep harping on," Bryant said.
The performance was dynamic enough that Bryant left the game after halftime to get an IV. It's not that he was needed, as the third and fourth quarters felt like a formality.
The Cowboys defense clamped down on Blake Bortles and the Jaguars, holding the Jacksonville offense to 10 points after halftime. The Jaguars scored their first touchdown on a 32-yard Denard Robinson run with 7:36 remaining in the first quarter, and they didn't score again until only 7:55 remained in the game.
"It's hard to catch a guy who runs a 4.3," said Jeremy Mincey. "There were a few bleeps on the sideline, but it all worked out – we got it fixed."
Headlined by Mincey, who notched a sack against his former team, the pass rush enjoyed a second-straight productive day. The Cowboys sacked Bortles four times and limited the Jaguars' ground game to 71 total yards.
"It seemed like those guys did a good job pressuring the quarterback throughout the game, and for the most part, really quieting that run game down," Garrett said.
The Cowboys' own ground game wasn't quite the same focal point of previous weeks, but it once again pounded away with DeMarco Murray. After having his streak of 100-yard games snapped by Arizona, Murray rebounded with exactly 100 yards on 19 carries. Joseph Randle spelled him periodically, and he ended the competitive portion of the night by tearing off a 40-yard touchdown halfway through the third quarter.
The Cowboys wouldn't score again, and they wouldn't need to. It was an efficient enough win that Brandon Weeden played the last seven minutes of regulation for the Cowboys – a rare sight in the NFL.
"Coach Garrett said it, it's business," Bryant said. "We came out and took care of business. Had fun. That's it."