NFC East: Julius Jones
LANDOVER, Md. -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' 24-23 victory over the Washington Redskins:
What it means for the Cowboys: They’re alive. For the third straight year, the Cowboys will play a Week 17 game for the right to win the NFC East and make the playoffs. Somehow.
Trailing 23-14, the Cowboys rallied on Tony Romo's 10-yard touchdown throw to DeMarco Murray on a fourth-and-goal play with 1:08 to go. The defense was able to come up with a stop, and now the Cowboys welcome the Philadelphia Eagles to AT&T Stadium next week to try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Cowboys are 5-0 in the NFC East for the first time since 1998 and snapped a two-game losing streak.
It was not pretty, but it will do. It also continued to show the team’s ability to bounce back from tough losses. The Cowboys did it earlier in the season against the Redskins after their 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos, and they did it after their 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions when they beat the Minnesota Vikings.
Stock watch: Terrance Williams, rising. On the winning drive, Williams caught two passes for 66 yards, including a 51-yarder that set up Murray’s touchdown catch. Williams finished the day with four catches for 84 yards, which is his second-most in a game this season.
Murray hits mark: It should have happened last week against the Green Bay Packers, but DeMarco Murray went over 1,000 yards on the season with a 43-yard run in the second quarter.
Murray finished with 96 yards on 22 carries and enters the final game of the season with 1,073 yards, which is even more impressive considering he missed two games earlier in the season with a knee injury. He is the first Cowboys running back with 1,000 yards in a season since Julius Jones had 1,084 in 2006. Murray also had his ninth rushing touchdown of the season when he bulled his way in from the 3 on the Cowboys’ first drive. It’s the most rushing touchdowns by a Dallas back since Marion Barber had 10 in 2007.
Oh, by the way, he scored the winning touchdown.
Defense comes up with stops: The offense did the defense no favors by starting out the second half with turnovers on consecutive possessions that led to Washington touchdowns and a 20-14 lead.
The Cowboys were able to overcome a bad penalty by J.J. Wilcox on a third-down play to hold Washington to a field goal, then came up with the only punt of the second half when Orlando Scandrick broke up a Kirk Cousins pass to Pierre Garcon. They also flustered Cousins into poor throws on the final drive.
What’s next: The Cowboys close the regular season at AT&T Stadium against the Eagles. The Cowboys beat Philadelphia 17-3 on Oct. 20 at Lincoln Financial Field with what was their best defensive effort of the season. They kept LeSean McCoy in check (55 yards), limited Nick Foles to 80 yards passing before knocking him out of the game and intercepted Matt Barkley three times in the fourth quarter.
Every Tuesday as always wonder about some things. Five Wonders is back and off we go:
- Jason Hatcher is having a career year and it could not have come at a better time. Hatcher will be a free agent after the season and already has more sacks this year than he has had in any season. And he could make the Pro Bowl, which is something he mentions frequently. But Hatcher will turn 32 next July. I'm on record saying the Cowboys can't pay age. But I wonder if the Cowboys would consider using the franchise tag on him. It would chew up $9-10 million in salary-cap room, but they would buy some time in finding defensive line help for beyond 2014. The Cowboys will have to make a number of moves to get under the cap, but they would be able to fit Hatcher in at the franchise number. Is it worth it? The Cowboys put the tag on Anthony Spencer last year, paying him $10.6 million. I thought it was the right move at the time and did not second guess it after Spencer's knee injury cost him all but one game this season. I'm not as sure about tagging Hatcher. They might have to restructure more deals than they would want and that would also affect the cap in 2015 and beyond. And last year the defensive line market was thin, even for the top players.
- Kyle Orton in the offseason. He will make $3.25 million in 2014 and count $4.377 against the salary cap. The Cowboys will have to do a lot of maneuvering to get under the cap in the offseason and could just restructure Orton's contract in the same way they did last March. The Cowboys have yet to start the clock on finding Tony Romo's replacement, which is another reason to keep Orton around. But the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers also offer up valid reasons to keep Orton even if he does not throw a pass this year. The Packers season has gone to shreds without Aaron Rodgers. They have not won since losing Rodgers, turning first to Seneca Wallace, who got hurt, then to Scott Tolzien and now they're on Matt Flynn. The Bears are 2-3 without Jay Cutler, though it is difficult to put much of the blame on Josh McCown. He's done a nice job and been a stabilizing force, but the Bears appeared to learn their lesson when they lost Cutler in previous seasons. Romo turns 34 in April. He's battled injuries in the past and had back surgery last April. Keeping Orton makes sense and something I think the Cowboys do. It's an insurance policy worth keeping. I wonder if the Cowboys will have a decision to make on backup quarterback
- I wonder if the Cowboys had Laurent Robinson in the back of their mind when they have signed some of these defensive linemen this season. Confused? Hear me out. In 2011, Robinson had a career year with 54 catches for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns, but because the Cowboys signed him to a minimum salary-benefit contract they were unable to re-sign him before he hit free agency. Jacksonville swooped in with a five-year, $32.5 million deal with $14 million guaranteed. It was way too rich for the Cowboys -- and ultimately the Jaguars -- but without the restriction Robinson would have re-signed with the Cowboys at a much cheaper rate. That brings me to the defensive linemen. When the Cowboys signed George Selvie, Everette Brown, Jarius Wynn, Drake Nevis and Martez Wilson, they made sure they got a second year on the contracts. They are all signed through 2014, so if they hit -- and Selvie is a hit -- the Cowboys hold their rights for a second year. That's a shrewd move, in my opinion.
- I wonder if DeMarco Murray can reach 1,000 yards. Yep, I do. Murray missed two games with a knee injury and essentially missed a third when he got just four carries for 31 yards against the Minnesota Vikings when the game plan called for Tony Romo to pass the ball early and often. But with four games to go Murray needs 303 yards to reach 1,000. In his last three games Murray has rushed for 89, 86 and 63 yards. If he keeps up that pace, he would get there. Reaching 1,000 yards should not be that difficult, but the Cowboys sure seem to make it difficult after years of Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith almost annually reaching the mark. The last Dallas runner to go for more than 1,000 yards was Julius Jones (1,084) in 2006 and that's the Cowboys only 1,000-yard rusher since 2001.
- I don't wonder if the Cowboys will rue the day they lost Alex Tanney, just as I don't think the Cowboys have rued the day since losing Matt Moore oh so many years ago. (Long-time readers will know how I feel about Moore). The Cleveland Browns signed Tanney off the Cowboys' practice squad last week. I liked what Tanney did in a short time with the Cowboys over the summer. He showed some things in his preseason work, but there will be a new Tanney next summer. Or even next week. I wonder if the Cowboys add a quarterback to the practice squad over the final month of the season. They could use the last four weeks to bring a guy in for a free look and essentially give him a “signing bonus” for four weeks of being on the practice squad and sign him to a futures deal when the season ends.
Jason Garrett doesn't mind running the ball, as long as the offensive line and fullbacks make the necessary holes to get it going.[+] EnlargeMatthew Emmons/US PresswireThe Cowboys are counting on DeMarco Murray to be a workhorse this season.
The numbers indicate that Garrett trusts Murray.
He had five games with 20 or more carries, the most for any running back since Garrett became offensive coordinator in 2007. Murray also became the first back under Garrett to have four consecutive games with 20 or more carries.
Felix Jones, Murray's backup, has had just two games with 20 or more carries since he was drafted in 2008.
Marion Barber, a former starter, had four 20-carry games in 2008, but he reached that mark just once more before being released.
When I watch Murray run, I see a guy who looks like a workhorse back -- who enjoys contact, runs hard and isn't afraid of the workload. A guy like that might not be able to hold up, long term, in today's NFL, but the Cowboys see in Murray a back who can be their starter in the short term, in a way that fewer and fewer teams are using starting running backs.
This is not a time-share situation in Dallas. If Murray is recovered from his ankle injury and fully healthy, he is going to get the carries, and Jones is going to be the backup, as he was last season before Murray got hurt. How long that can last is anyone's guess, but at least for right now, Murray is the back in whom the Cowboys have put their trust.
Well, this is a good start. The Cowboys announced Wednesday that Murray has been named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for the month of November, in which he grabbed hold of their starting running back job and literally ran with it. Murray gained 434 yards and one touchdown on 89 carries and caught 20 passes for 156 more yards. His best game came in late October, when he ran for 253 yards against the Rams. But he rushed for 139 on Nov. 6 against the Seahawks and 135 more on Nov. 13 against the Bills. The Cowboys' 4-0 record in November was due in large part to the way the offense functioned following the emergence of Murray as a legitimate threat in the run game. And even with one-time starter Felix Jones now back from the injury that gave Murray his opportunity, Murray remains the Cowboys' starting running back.
The last Cowboys player to be named Offensive Rookie of the Month was running back Julius Jones in November of 2004. DeMarcus Ware was named Defensive Rookie of the Month in October of 2005. This is the second monthly award for the Cowboys this season, as linebacker Sean Lee was named the league's Defensive Player of the Month in September.
IRVING, Texas -- Cowboys running back Marion Barber has a bruised foot and his return is questionable, according to the club. The Cowboys haven't had the ball in the second half, so we'll see if Barber's in there.
Seahawks running back Julius Jones has left the game with a head injury and his return is questionable. The good news for the Seahawks is that Maurice Morris has been very effective on the Seahawks' current drive.
Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill has left the game with a shoulder injury and his return is questionable. The Cowboys have spent most of the first half exploiting the matchup between Jason Witten and safety Deon Grant. Witten's having a huge game against Grant, who seems to bite on Witten's initial fake every time.
For some strange reason, the Texas Stadium crowd is booing Seahawks running back Julius Jones every time he touches the ball. Jones, a former Cowboys second-round pick, wasn't offered a new contract before he hit free agency last March. There's no reason in the world the home crowd should be booing him.
Cowboys leading 21-3 with 9:30 left in the first half. They're a touchdown away from completely shutting the door on the Seahawks. Cowboys fans are so bored that they're doing the wave. I'm pretty sure the wave got its start in Seattle.
Cowboys about to score again. This one's about over, folks.
If the Cowboys watch film of Sunday's Seahawks-Redskins game, they'll have plenty of respect for Seattle. This is a team that's kept battling despite its pitiful record. Of course, the Cowboys' Thanksgiving Day game is one of the biggest advantages in the league -- thanks to the late Tex Schramm. The Seahawks practiced Monday and Tuesday and then are catching a 2 p.m. ET flight into Dallas.
Matt Hasselbeck is still a threat, but he's thrown too many interceptions this season when he's been healthy enough to play. And he doesn't have a great supporting cast. Former Cowboys running back Julius Jones was a free-agent acquisition, but he only had two carries last Sunday against the Redskins. The Cowboys know what to expect from Jones -- if he gets significant playing time.
The Seahawks will not make the same mistake the 49ers made. They'll jam T.O. at the line of scrimmage and provide some safety help over the top. Perhaps this is the game where Roy Williams becomes more of a factor. The good news for Cowboys fans is that Tony Romo has found his rhythm. He's moving well in the pocket and making excellent downfield throws.
The Seahawks will have a few tricks up their sleeve on special teams because assistant Bruce DeHaven hasn't forgotten the way he was treated by Wade Phillips many years ago in Buffalo. Look for at least one big return for the Seahawks. In the end, though, the Cowboys defense will overwhelm the Seattle offense. Maurice Morris and Jones won't be able to run, which will once again make the Seahawks -- wait for it -- one-dimensional. As they say in the business, this is a waste of jet fuel for the Seahawks.
All eyes will be on quarterback Donovan McNabb and whether he can bounce back from his benching Sunday in Baltimore. The move has backfired on coach Andy Reid on several levels, and he's trying to put the genie back in the bottle.
The Cardinals are good enough on offense to win even if McNabb plays a solid game. Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel is banged up, which will put more pressure on Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown. This isn't a team that responds well to adversity, so I'm thinking the Cardinals win by a touchdown.
The Eagles' defense has played well at times, but they need to knock Kurt Warner down a bunch to have a chance of winning the turnover battle. In fact, the defense needs to score at least once and DeSean Jackson needs to have a big night in the return game. The Eagles are 26th in the league on third-down conversions, and they're 18-of-70 during their last five games. Reid would have you believe that the Eagles are close to being a good team, but most of us know the truth.
If the Eagles lose, it will be time to officially launch the Kevin Kolb era. Any other outcome would be pointless. If they win, McNabb will keep playing. Just think of it as an audition for other teams, something that he wasn't expecting to do at this point in his career. And in case you're scoring at home, McNabb turned 32 on Tuesday. Reid sure knows how to throw a surprise party.