NASHVILLE, Tenn. – If his own mistake wasn't motivation enough, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett had some inspiring words for DeMarco Murray on Sunday.
Murray had just lost a fumble to the Titans on his fourth carry of the afternoon – his second lost fumble of the young season. As he returned to the sideline, Garrett quickly told his Pro Bowl running back what the gameplan would be going forward.
"I said 'That was about the third carry of about 30 you're going to get today. Hold onto the damn ball,'" Garrett said.
He did that, and more. In a surprisingly dominant 26-10 win, the Cowboys force fed the Titans with an unstoppable ground game that saw them finish with 223 total rushing yards on the day.
Murray accounted for a whopping 167 of those, as he carried the ball an unprecedented 29 times and scored a touchdown in the process of amending for that fumble.
"D-Mo's a guy that always keeps his head forward," said Travis Frederick. "It happened. You could tell he was upset when it happened, but he flipped a switch and it was on to the next play. You knew after that he wasn't going to give it up again."
Amid the crush of reporters that comes with that type of performance, however, Murray was careful not to speak too boldly. He heaped praise on the play of the offensive line and the wide receiver, and he complimented Scott Linehan's playcalling.
"We had a good day running the ball, but we definitely left some yards out there," Murray said. "We've got to get better on a few things, we'll watch film and review it. It was a good victory for us, but we've got to clean it up a little bit."
It says a lot that against a front that limited Jammal Charles to 19 yards just last week, Murray didn't go backward one time. Three of his carries went for no gain, but Murray wasn't tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
It's not that Tennessee's front seven isn't talented. Led by All-Pro defensive end Jurrell Casey, the Titans sacked Tony Romo four times in a losing effort, but they simply had no answer for Murray's physicality. His runs weren't even of the gamebreaking variety, as he had just two runs of 15 yards or more. He simply battered the Titans into submission, instead.
"This is how you want to play, obviously," Garrett said. "You have to control the line of scrimmage in order to run the ball throughout the game. Hopefully, if you're able to do that, you can do that at the end of the game."
The Cowboys were so effective that by the end of the 16-point win, it was Lance Dunbar winding down the clock. Murray rested on the sideline, his fumbling woes long forgotten – by everyone else, at least.
"I can't let that happen. I've just got to revert what I'm used to doing and holding it with the hand I'm comfortable in," Murray said. "I can't let that happen, and I'll get to work on that." The fumble set the Titans up near midfield, putting the Dallas defense in a bad spot to open the game. Murray's proficiency with the football more than made up for that during the rest of the game. With the rushing attack clicking, the Cowboys limited the Titans to 19 minutes of possession, allowing their defense to flourish for the 49 snaps they were on the field.
"When you can do that, drive the football again and again and again and control the football and control the game, it gives you a great chance to win," Garrett said.
When the Titans did manage to rally, the Cowboys picked up the slack to put things away. Tennessee cut their deficit to six points thanks largely to a 61-yard touchdown by Delanie Walker in the third quarter. With the lead in the balance, [embedded_ad] Tony Romo led Dallas on a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. His three-yard touchdown connection with Dez Bryant set the Cowboys up to do what had been working in the fourth quarter – run the ball.
The Cowboys ran 22 plays in the fourth quarter – 17 of them runs. Murray's big day is likely to make him the NFL's leading rusher through two weeks. Downplaying again, he reiterated his focus on the stat he cares most about.
"Like I said before, I'm not worried about those stats, I'm just worried about wins and losses," he said.