ARLINGTON, Texas -- Sunday's first half was a dream half for the Dallas Cowboys, who strafed the Buffalo Bills for 317 yards, held the ball for 18 of 30 minutes and did every single thing they wanted to do on both sides of the ball. But the modern sports fan greets good fortune with suspicion, and so the one thing everybody here kept muttering as the game went to halftime was, "This feels like the Detroit game."
It wasn't, of course. This would turn out to be the Buffalo game, and a dominating 44-7 victory for the Cowboys, who are back over .500 for the first time since that ugly Week 4 collapse and loss to the Lions. And the main reason the Buffalo game was not a repeat is a rookie running back who got four carries in the Detroit game. On Sunday, DeMarco Murray ran for 135 yards on 20 carries and put the game on ice in thunderous fashion.
"He's destroying, man," Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant said of Murray, who has 601 rushing yards in the past four games since Felix Jones went down with an ankle injury. "He's just unstoppable right now. And it's not surprising to me. I've seen it in practice. I've seen it in college. There's no rival."
"He is, and should be, inspirational," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "We have to feel good about what he is doing for the offensive line. I used to say that, as much as we thought of our offensive line when Emmitt [Smith] was here, it was also Emmitt making our offensive line."
Murray's emergence has come at a beneficial time for the Cowboys, who are positioned to make a strong run at the first-place New York Giants in the NFC East. Dallas is now 5-4 in spite of all of the injuries and all of the missed opportunities of the first half of the season. Their next three games are against the Redskins, Dolphins and Cardinals, who have a combined record of 8-19. If they could beat all three of those weak opponents, they would go into their Dec. 11 game against the Giants with an 8-4 record and a real chance to control their playoff hopes.
"I think the great teams get going right about now," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "We need to start stacking up those wins. It's that time of year."
To that end, it's nice that Murray has come along to unlock a fresh and thrilling new dimension to their offense. He runs with power and determination. He absorbs hits and breaks tackles. He is the essence of tough, which is an element the run game lacked earlier this season with Jones running behind a work-in-progress offensive line.
"When you can run the ball into eight-man fronts and have success like he's having, it puts a dent in the defense," Witten said. "And it puts a smile on your face, because you know the defense is going to have a tough time."
Murray is dishing out punishment, and the big question everybody's asking around here is whether there's any chance he loses the "starting" running back job to Jones once Jones is ready to return from his injury. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett won't commit to an answer, mainly because (a) it doesn't really matter who "starts" if Murray's going to get the larger share of the carries and (b) the point is that Jones' return would only increase the number of offensive weapons available to the Cowboys on a given play. Which is a good thing.
"I think, when you break the huddle and you can do different things well with different people, that's a good thing for your offense," Garrett said. "I think today was a pretty good example of that. They wanted to defend the run early, we were able to throw the football, then we were able to run when it came to the run."
The way it's supposed to work. And for the Cowboys, the way it's working now that Murray is in the mix. Sunday's Cowboys offense was an offense that clicked in every conceivable way, and as good and sharp as Tony Romo was even with wide receiver Miles Austin out with a hamstring injury, the key may have been Murray. He's the thing about the offense that's different from earlier in the year, and if things are changing for the better at just the right time, he's a huge reason why.
"When you get on a roll as an offense, when you can pick up big yards on first down like we did today, there's just a lot of possibilities," Murray said. "This team has just been getting better all year, and I think we can keep it going."
Especially against the schedule they play over the next three weeks, they have to believe they have that chance. Sunday established the formula, and it's based on keeping the ball as much as possible and gaining big chunks of yardage in a variety of ways.
"We've talked about that -- how we wanted to get back to the time of possession and staying in control of the game as an offense," Witten said. "And the fact that we can be as explosive as we were today, even with a guy like Miles down, that's good for all of us."
The explosiveness is good. So is the timing. And for both of those, the Cowboys can thank DeMarco Murray, who appears to have shown up just in time.