CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In general, the Cowboys on Sunday looked like a team missing its top running back. But in the end – specifically the end - the combination of Felix Jones and Phillip Tanner got the job done.
A week removed from spraining his foot against Baltimore, DeMarco Murray did not make the trip to North Carolina. The two games could not have gone more different for the Cowboys on the ground. Seven days prior, they rushed for more yards (227) than the Ravens had given up in the history of their franchise. This time, though, they were struggling for even three-yard carries, and ended up averaging only 2.7 yards per run on the day.
The rugged nature of the game may have actually come in handy, preparing Murray's two fill-ins for some situations requiring hard running at the end, with the Buccaneers ganged up to stop the run. Eleven of the Cowboys' 31 carries came in the fourth quarter, crucial to getting the offense in position to take the lead, and then preserving it while the Panthers were forced to use their timeouts ahead of a last-ditch drive.
"It's a mindset," Tanner said. "You can't just look at the stats and say, 'OK, we didn't have any big runs.' Like coach (Jason Garrett) tells us, it's the nondescript plays, that are probably not going to show up on ESPN, but they're key plays in the game."
Tanner and Jones had only 74 yards combined on 28 carries during the game, but 15 came on the go-ahead drive, when Tony Romo also had a 10 yard scramble. The final play from scrimmage was a five-yard draw run for Tanner, a conservative call, but one that brought Dan Bailey even closer for the field goal that put the Cowboys up for good.
"I wanted to preserve that opportunity there to kick that field goal," Garrett said. "I thought Phillip Tanner did a real nice job at the end of the ball game, that play and other plays, just taking care of the football and sealing the win for us."
Tanner was involved in another huge play later on the Cowboys' next drive, after the defense forced a turnover on downs. A Felix Jones run on first down went nowhere, but the clock stopped for the two-minute warning. On second down, Tanner carried around left end, but was halted in bounds by James Anderson, who was flagged for a horse collar tackle, albeit a questionable call. The first down put the Cowboys in field goal range, leading to a Bailey kick cost the Panthers more time, as they were forced to use their second and third timeouts.
The Cowboys are hopeful Murray can be back next week against the Giants. The starter had 138 yards in Week 1, at New York. If not, Jones and Tanner will likely split carries again.