IRVING, Texas - The 2011 Dallas Cowboys season ended in great disappointment, and for that reason, far more than the down-to-the-wire games and a handful of thrilling wins, the year will be remembered for a long time to come.
So for posterity sake, the DallasCowboys.com writers will take one last look at the memorable but frustrating season, game-by-game. Today we present the sixth installment of this 16-part series.
Game 5: Cowboys (2-3) vs. Rams (0-5)
When: Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011
Where: Cowboys Stadium; Arlington, Texas
Storyline: The Cowboys were just seconds away from pulling off one of their biggest regular-season wins in recent memory, but couldn't stop Tom Brady and the Patriots in the final minute of play. So coming off yet another heartbreaking loss, the questions were surfacing whether this Cowboys team knew how to finish off teams in the fourth quarter. And heading into the game with the winless Rams, the Cowboys had played 11 straight contests decided by four points or less, and had just a 5-6 record in those outings. It was time to see if this Cowboys team even knew how to play anything but a close game.
Game Review: There's not much to say about this game that doesn't include DeMarco Murray. The rookie from Oklahoma, who didn't even get the first carry of the day, or the last one, exploded in between like we've never seen before. After starting out with an impressive 91-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the game, Murray never stopped pouring it on against the helpless Rams. When it was all said and done, he not only broke the Cowboys' single-game rookie rushing record, but also Emmitt Smith's 18-year-old mark of 237 rushing yards set against the Eagles in 1993. Murray's day finished with 253 yards on 25 carries. While Murray was a showstopper, the Cowboys were efficient on offense overall, racking up 445 total yards. Tony Romo didn't have to be spectacular, passing for just 166 yards, but he did have two touchdown throws. The Cowboys' defense held the Rams to just 265 yards and forced two turnovers to improve to 3-3.
Pivotal Play: Here's a pretty easy choice. The Cowboys were pinned back inside their 10 when they decided to see what DeMarco Murray could provide. He ripped off a 91-yard touchdown that showed a burst through the hole, an open-field move on the safety and then pure speed to get to the end zone. That's what began the record-breaking day for the young rookie. The Cowboys actually started Tashard Choice and without that big run, they might have split carries with the two backs for most of the day. Instead, Choice only got two carries, and fumbled the ball away on his last one.
Gamebreaker: Aside from the obvious pick in Murray, wide receiver Dez Bryant had a solid game as well, catching five passes for 90 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown. That score was big from the standpoint the Cowboys had struggled to get Bryant the ball in the second half of previous games, particularly in the end zone. While the Rams had the NFL's worst defense, the Cowboys at least took advantage of it in every aspect.
The Fallout: Not only did the Cowboys find themselves an answer at running back for this season, but a game like that, which displayed breathtaking runs, is one that has the organization thinking it might have a future superstar in Murray. While it was just one game, he backed it up the next three outings with two more 100-yard performances and had other games in which he ran out the clock in the fourth quarter. The 253-yard performance showed the ability to produce greatness on any given day, but more than anything, it opened the door for Murray to become the starting back. And before his season-ending ankle injury, he convinced the Cowboys they have a back they can lean on.