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Thursday, November 28, 2013
Rapid Reaction: Dallas Cowboys

By Todd Archer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 31-24 win against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday.

What it means for the Cowboys: Things started poorly when Terrance Williams fumbled the opening kickoff and Greg Jenkins returned it 23 yards for a score just 12 seconds into the game.

It was the quickest touchdown given up by the Cowboys in their history, but they were able to overcome a 14-point second-quarter deficit to take sole possession of first place in the NFC East with the win.

At 7-5, the Cowboys lead the division by a half-game over the Philadelphia Eagles (6-5) and are two games over .500 for the first time this season and the first time since Week 15 last season when they moved to 8-6.

The Cowboys will enter December with control of their fate and on a little bit of a roll. Tony Romo threw a touchdown pass in the 25th straight game and improved to 6-1 on Thanksgiving for his career.

Stock watch: Lance Dunbar, rising. Needing a boost, the Cowboys found it in Dunbar, the second-year running back from North Texas. He had 78 yards rushing in the third quarter that set up touchdowns by Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray. He finished the game with 82 yards and was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter with a left knee injury.

Defense turns it around: Struggling is nothing new for the Cowboys’ defense, but the Raiders had their way with them in the first half. In putting up 21 points, Oakland gained 185 yards and converted on four of seven third-down opportunities.

The saving grace was a fumbled snap by Matt McGloin that Kyle Wilber recovered at the Oakland 3 that the Cowboys turned into a touchdown.

In the second half, things were much improved. The Raiders had one first down and just 25 yards to start the second half as the Cowboys tied the game in the third quarter and took the lead for good on the second play of the fourth quarter.

Cornerback Brandon Carr rebounded from a poor first half to intercept McGloin on an underthrown ball in the end zone to Jacoby Ford. The Cowboys turned that into a clinching Dan Bailey field goal with 1:56 to play.

Finding the end zone: Murray might have been usurped as the star of the ground game by Dunbar, but he contributed the first three-touchdown game of his career.

The last Cowboys running back with three rushing touchdowns in the same game was Julius Jones, who had three in a 43-39 win against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 6, 2004.

The Cowboys have nine rushing touchdowns on the season. A modest total, but the most they have had since 2010 when they had 10.

What’s next: The Cowboys have a mini-bye of sorts until the play again on Dec. 9 at the Chicago Bears. While winning the NFC East is the best and easiest way to make the playoffs, if the Cowboys want to have any wild-card hopes they almost have to win this game.