CHICAGO – For all the hand-wringing, there might not be a number of touches too high for DeMarco Murray.
Murray's carry count has been the topic of much speculation all season, as people have worried the Cowboys might run their feature back into the ground.
To the contrary, Murray ran the Bears into the ground. Thirteen games into a career season, Murray chalked up a career-high 32 carries for 179 yards and a touchdown. If that wasn't enough, he set a career high for receptions, with nine for another 49 yards.
The workload didn't seem to faze Murray, who carried eight times for 63 yards in a frenetic fourth quarter.
"I feel great, I feel awesome. The offensive line, they played well," Murray said. "I just felt like we got back to our basic plays that we're used to running – I'm familiar with, the O-Line is familiar with, everybody is familiar with."
It was a return to Murray's early-season form after what had been a down month. Last week's loss to Philadelphia saw Murray fail to reach 100 rushing yards for just the second time this year. He also hadn't touched the ball more than 26 times since Oct. 19 – until he racked up 41 total touches on Thursday night.
The common line on Murray's play style is that he gets stronger as a game wears on, and he did his best to back that up against the Bears. He averaged nearly six yards per carry against a mid-pack Chicago run defense, but it was the fourth quarter, when the Bears staged a comeback bid, where he ripped off long gainers of 40 and 26 yards.
"I pride myself on starting fast and finishing strong. I never want to use that term, but I want to be strong every time I touch it," he said. "You can't try to go for the home run on every single play, and I tried to do that a couple times tonight. I've got to get better. I'll watch film and learn from it."
This film will undoubtedly be easier to digest than last week's Eagles tape. Murray and his offensive line struggled on one of just a few occasions all season against Philadelphia. Against Chicago, the offense achieved an eerie sort of balance – 205 passing yards and 194 rushing yards – and helped both Murray and Joseph Randle into the end zone.
"I think it comes down to the offense running well as a whole," said Travis Frederick. "A good balance between pass and run -- when you have that it makes it easier to get the running game going."
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett gave his group a chance to set the tone early. With the game still scoreless in the second quarter, the Cowboys handed off to Murray on 4th-and-1 in the Chicago red zone – twice. Behind his line, Murray converted both plays, the first for a big first down and the second for the game's first touchdown.
"It was huge for us. They've got a great short-yardage defense, and we knew that coming in. They've done a great job all year of stopping the short-yardage plays," said Zack Martin. "We've been very good this year in those short yardage plays, too. We take great pride in that, and it was awesome that Coach gave us a chance to go out and convert on those fourth downs."
The big night is bound to put Murray back into milestone conversations. Thursday night marks his new season-high for rushing yardage in an already-decorated season. The Cowboys' single-season rushing record of 1,773 yards is well within his sights, as he sits on 1,606 with three games to play. If he can up his average just slightly, a 2,000-yard season isn't out of the question.
Asked about those possibilities, Murray stayed on task – just as he had done all night.
"We're just coming out and running ball plays that are giving us a chance to win – whether it's running, passing. Trying to win some games," he said. "It's not about yards. Whatever happens at the end of the year happens, but we're taking it week-by-week and trying to come up with some wins."