IRVING, Texas – The most heavily criticized player on the Cowboys now might be the most critical.
A fumbled kickoff return and a handful of short returns had many questioning what Felix Jones brought to the table. I can't pretend I wasn't part of that group, at least to some extent.
Jones only rushed three times for 13 yards before Sunday. He no longer appeared to possess the same burst the Cowboys had seen from him in the past, and with a clear-cut starter in front of him at running back, if his contributions were coming solely on special teams, another direction seemed necessary.
But the first game the Cowboys brought running back/returner Lance Dunbar up from the practice squad was the same day Jones made his value abundantly clear.
Murray cruised for 93 yards on 14 carries against the Ravens, including a 28-yard run in the first quarter to set the Cowboys up for their first touchdown. He didn't score it. Instead, it was Jones bursting to the outside and fighting for the end zone on a 22-yard touchdown run – his first since the season opener in 2011. It didn't even look like the same insulted player of past weeks.
"I thought he did a good job," said tight end Jason Witten. "Sometimes the games are dictated otherwise in the past. Just stay the course. Obviously, this was the best he's played in a long time. I was proud of him. He gave us a chance. He needs to build on it, and I think he will."
That touchdown wouldn't end the day for Jones, who ran 18 times for 92 yards after being thrust in with the starters when Murray left the game with a sprained foot. If Murray can't get healthy this week, the Cowboys will need Jones to carry the load in an invigorated running game.
Phillip Tanner, the backup to the backup, who rushed nine times for 31 yards before Jones returned from cramps, said Jones sets a great example for not only the running backs, but for every player on the team.
"Felix is a great guy," Tanner said. "He's like a big brother to all of us. He comes to work every day with a good head on his shoulders. He works hard, goes hard every single day at practice."
It wasn't just a few down weeks for Jones to start the season. People were calling for him to be cut. But, not his teammates. Even when he wasn't rolling as a returner in previous games, safety Danny McCray said all Jones needed was a couple of blocks to spring one loose. Not many outside the locker room would believe that.
This week, when Jones rushed more times than any player in the game, including Ravens running back Ray Rice, and averaged 5.1 yards per carry, his teammates weren't among the amazed onlookers.
"I admire [Felix] and what he does," Tanner said. "He's a great example to all of us. He always keeps his head up. That's one thing I admire about him."