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Monday, October 24, 2011
Cowboys get a much-needed laugher

By Dan Graziano

DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray's record-setting performance helped the Cowboys dominate the Rams.
Look, the St. Louis Rams are a wreck -- a winless mess of a team that can't do a thing right on the field, didn't have its quarterback Sunday and defended DeMarco Murray as though he were invisible. We'll get all of that out of the way right up front, okay? On the impressive victories chart, this game the Dallas Cowboys played Sunday doesn't rate.

But will they ever take it.

This is a Cowboys team that has had every play, every route, every pre-snap audible examined down to the nub all season long. A team that had played 11 straight games, dating back into last November, that were decided by four or fewer points. This is a team that is hailed when it wins and excoriated when it loses, on whom no fan or pundit anywhere can ever seem to find any middle ground. Wild extremes of feeling and opinion have defined the assessment and evaluation of these Cowboys. What a relief it must have been to finally, at long last, play a game that defied picking-apart.

What a relief it must have been for Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to be a non-story. The quarterback who's always either a superstar or a bum, depending on the final score, was downright ordinary Sunday. He was 12-for-24 for 166 yards and two touchdowns. I yawn just typing those numbers. They're not great. They're not awful. They just are. And they weren't the story.

What a relief it must have been for the defense to get a game against A.J. Feeley and a shredded Rams offensive line, for cornerbacks Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins to be put in a situation where they could look so good -- pitting their skills against a team that had to throw the ball but didn't have sufficient personnel with which to do it.

What a relief it must have been for this whole veteran Cowboy team, which has been through so much struggle and disappointment for the past two seasons, to sit back and watch their rookie running back break the team record for rushing yards in a game, and to coast to their easiest win in nearly a year on Murray's back. The Cowboys needed a game like this. They needed it badly. And now that they got it, it may just set them up to put a nifty run together.

Last week, receiver Dez Bryant made some weird headlines when he said he believed the Cowboys to be "unbeatable." It was an odd assertion to make about a team that, at the time, had a record of 2-3. But Bryant's an odd guy with an odd way of making a decent point. He believes the Cowboys cost themselves each of their three losses -- that all three would have been wins but for avoidable mistakes they themselves made. Sunday's game against the Rams let the Cowboys feel unbeatable for an afternoon, and that's a feeling they haven't had (except for maybe Bryant) in quite some time.

The timing is good, because the Cowboys' schedule has just gone as soft as warm cream cheese. Their next game, Sunday night in Philadelphia, could be a tough one because the Eagles are feeling good now and Andy Reid is 12-0 lifetime after the bye. But even if Dallas loses that game and falls to 3-4, the weeks that follow offer piles and piles of hope. Only four of the Cowboys' remaining 10  games are against teams that currently have winning records, and only one of those four (Nov. 13 at home against the Bills) comes before mid-December. They can split with the Eagles and the Giants and still get to 11 wins. I'm not saying they will, mind you, but they're good enough to beat every team they have left and the boost of confidence they got Sunday can only help.

The Cowboys are healthy and strong and finally got to relax and breathe a little bit Sunday. It had been a while. It's a feeling they could surely get used to, and the coming weeks and months offer them a chance to do just that.