ARLINGTON, Texas – Insert your tryptophan joke here …
It took awhile for the Cowboys to seemingly wake up for this Thanksgiving showdown, the team falling behind by 14 points at one point in the second quarter to Oakland. But in the end, Dallas sent 87,572 fans home happy with a 31-24 victory over the visiting Raiders.
"I was proud of the guys and their ability to concentrate in the tough situation being where we were in the football game," said quarterback Tony Romo. "Teams can go one of two ways there and I'm just proud of the guys the way they committed and kept grinding."
In earning the victory, the Cowboys improved to 7-5 on the year, assuring they'll remain atop the NFC East for another week, while upping their all-time record in the annual holiday classic to 29-16-1 and wearing their road blue uniforms at home for the first time in more than 40 years.
And, the Cowboys got a spark from an unlikely source. Little used Lance Dunbar came into this game with 18 carries and six receptions for 115 yards from scrimmage, having appeared in only eight of the team's previous contests, largely due to injury.
He also had only one reception and not a single rush through the first two quarters of this game against the Raiders. But given a chance in the third quarter, Dunbar got himself and the team going, particularly on a big 45-yard gain on the Cowboys' first drive of the second half. He went on to finish with 82 rushing yards, a career high, off of 12 carries before having to leave the game late in the fourth quarter with a knee sprain.
"Make plays, not try to do too much, try to protect the ball – those were my goals for the day," Dunbar said. "I think I kind of did that."
Dunbar wasn't the only one doing damage on the ground, however. DeMarco Murray put up a personal-best three touchdowns in the game, the first to do so for the Cowboys since Julius Jones also had three against Seattle during the 2004 season. Murray ended his day with 63 yards on 17 rushes with five catches for another 39 yards.
"It's just a testament to the offensive line," Murray said. "Those guys are blocking well and finishing blocks. The tight ends were blocking well and so were the receivers."
In all, Dallas finished with 144 yards on the ground on their way to 352 total yards of offense. Tony Romo was efficient, completing 23-of-32 passes for 225 yards and one touchdown, with Dez Bryant leading the team with 61 receiving yards on seven catches, including a score.
Defensively, the Cowboys didn't exactly dominate, although they did come up with two big turnovers, a fumble recovery that led to a quick touchdown for the offense and an interception in the end zone that prevented a Raiders score. After going 7-for-9 on third-down conversions in the first half, Oakland was 0-for-4 in the second half, totaling 305 yards of offense for the game.
Things couldn't have started much worse for the Cowboys, though, as on the opening kickoff, Terrance Williams, in place of the injured Dwayne Harris, fumbled the ball on the return at about the 20-yard line. Scooping it up was the Raiders' Greg Jenkins. who finished off the play by diving to the pylon for the score. [embedded_ad]
Twelve seconds into the game and Dallas was down 7-0.
"To have the opening kickoff fumbled and returned for a touchdown and then be down by a couple of scores in the first half, nobody blinked," said head coach Jason Garrett.
Although the Cowboys offense could get little going over the rest of the first quarter, the team got a gift of its own when on first-and-10 at the Oakland 6-yard line, quarterback Matt McGloin fumbled the snap with Dallas defensive end Kyle Wilber pouncing on it to set the home side up at the Raiders 2.
On the very next snap, Murray then bullied his way through the left side to even up the score, 7-7, the game back at square one.
Unfortunately, it didn't last long, as the visitors enjoyed two lengthy possessions that not only put points on the board, but also ate up the clock.
Starting at their own 21-yard line, the Raiders went on 12-play drive that took off 5:30. Four times the team converted on third down, the last of which was a 1-yard run by Jennings that gave Oakland back the lead.
Which they soon enough added to. After Dallas was unable to do anything on offense, as Romo threw three straight incomplete passes, the Raiders got going again at the 50-yard line with just under 10 minutes remaining in the half. By the time Jennings went off left tackle for another 1-yard score 12 plays later, 7:46 of clock had been eaten up.
Finally, though, the Cowboys found a little life. Working out of the two-minute offense, Romo connected two times with Witten for a combined 34 yards, and completed two more passes to Bryant, the second going for 25 yards down to the Oakland 4. Prior to this series, Witten and Bryant had been targeted only twice between them.
Murray then finished things up, pounding up the middle to narrow the gap to 21-14, while giving the Cowboys some momentum heading into the half.
"I thought DeMarco ran the ball very well," Garrett said. "A number of different times it felt like from my vantage point that the play was bottled up. But somehow, someway he found some creases and made some positive plays for us."
Sure enough, it carried over into the third quarter. On their first possession after the break, the Cowboys marched 87 yards in 10 plays to find paydirt. And they did so with the help of the two smallest players on the team.
Dunbar carried the ball three times during the drive for a combined 58 yards, the big blow coming when the 5-8 running back broke loose up the middle for a 45-yard gain. After that, Cole Beasley, another standing just 5-8, hauled in two passes that set Dallas up with first-and-goal at the Raiders 4-yard line.
On the very next snap, Romo then threw a dart to Bryant, who leapt high to bring it in for the game-tying score, 21-21.
From there, Oakland could do little to stop the Cowboys offense, as the team found the end zone on its next possession, traveling 65 yards in nine plays on a drive that started in the third quarter and finished early in the fourth.
Dallas got a nifty 19-yard reception from Witten, the veteran juking two Oakland defenders to make something out of nothing, and saw Dunbar carry the ball four times for 18 yards before Murray, who had a catch and two rushes himself during the series, provided the points with a 3-yard run to give the Cowboys the lead, 28-21, Murray's third touchdown of the day.
Oakland made it interesting, though, especially on the ensuing drive when McGloin hit Andre Holmes, who spent the previous two seasons with the Cowboys, across the middle for a big 35-yard gain down to the Dallas 21-yard line. But on third-and-9, the quarterback tried to find receiver Jacoby Ford in the end zone, only to have cornerback Brandon Carr come down with the jump ball for the interception, his third of the season.
"Just playing off with some vision," Carr said. "Ford was running a streak down the sideline and just playing the ball. He got the ball out of his hand quick the whole game. That was one of those cases, he just threw it up."
Starting at its own 20 with more than eight minutes still remaining on the clock, Dallas needed a time-consuming march to put the game away. They got it.
Relying heavily on their ground game, the Cowboys ran 14 plays all the way down to the Oakland 1-yard line before Dan Bailey came out for a game-securing 19-yard field goal. And perhaps even more importantly, the offense ate up 6:43 of time.
The Raiders did manage to keep the fans on the edge of their seats as they came right back and got a 45-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski, setting up an onside kick with 35 seconds remaining. But Jeff Heath was there to recover the attempt, Romo then taking a knee to complete the day.
With the victory, the Cowboys went two games over .500, 7-5, for the first time this season. And because of their 4-0 record in the NFC East, they'll stay in the division lead regardless of what Philadelphia does against Arizona on Sunday.
Dallas will now have the luxury of 10 days of rest before traveling to Chicago to face the Bears on Monday Night Football, Dec. 9.