NFL Nation: philip tanner

The news on Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is that an MRI revealed a foot sprain. This is relatively good news, as it does not appear to be a season-ending injury, but it sounds as though the Cowboys are not expecting Murray to play for them next week against the Panthers, and he could be out longer.

They can run on the Panthers without Murray, of course, as the Giants did with Andre Brown when Ahmad Bradshaw was hurt. The Panthers allow 127 rush yards per game, and the combination of Felix Jones, Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar should be able to gain yards on the ground, especially if the Cowboys' line blocks as well as it did Sunday in Baltimore.

But there's a larger point here, as I believe there is and must be when discussing this year's Cowboys, and it's that Murray is hurt again. He is one of their long-range building blocks, and assuming he sits out Sunday he'll have missed games in each of his first two seasons with foot injuries. That they are unrelated is of little concern. Murray's value to the Cowboys is as a tough, durable running back who can handle a bell-cow workload. If he cannot prove himself to be that, they may have to adjust their plan and look for alternatives in the coming seasons.

In the short term, Murray's injury could make it difficult for the Cowboys' run game to build on the gains it made in Baltimore. But looking beyond the coming weeks, the Cowboys have to wonder just how much they'll be able to count on him if it's going to be a struggle to keep him healthy.

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 31, Cowboys 29

October, 14, 2012

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Dallas Cowboys' heartbreaking 31-29 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:

What it means: The Cowboys did a lot of good things in this game, especially on offense. But a rash of penalties (13 of them, for a total of 82 yards) and the defense's inability to get a stop on critical Ravens drives late in the second and fourth quarters did them in. They had a chance all day to pull the upset at one of the toughest places in the league in which to play, but they are not a good enough team to overcome the kinds of mistakes they made. They are now 2-3 for the season. There are no moral victories in the NFL.

Injuries: Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne returned to the game in the second half after leaving in the first with a knee injury, so that was good. But running back DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 91 yards in the first half, couldn't shake off a foot injury and had only one second-half carry. Felix Jones, who looked good replacing him, also left the game for a time with an injury and left the running back duties to Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar. Jones came back on the final drive. The Cowboys also were without linebacker Anthony Spencer for the second straight game, since he has a pectoral muscle injury. Spencer's absence almost certainly impeded the Cowboys' ability to stop Ray Rice when they needed to the most.

The big play: After Dallas cut the Baltimore lead to 17-13 with an early third-quarter field goal, Baltimore's Jacoby Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown. The return tied an NFL record for the longest ever and built the Ravens' lead to 24-13. The play was well blocked, but it was a complete breakdown by the Cowboys' coverage unit, which never laid a finger on Jones.

Credit where it's due: The criticism here and in many other places of the Cowboys' offensive line this year has been justified, but Sunday's game showed marked improvement in strength and toughness across the line. They still got too sloppy with the penalties, but they were able to physically pound the Ravens' defensive front all day, pushing forward to make holes for the backs and even protecting Tony Romo better than they normally do (with some glaring exceptions, yes, but Rome wasn't built in a day). The Cowboys' line must continue to improve if the offense is going to have any chance of being effective this year, and Sunday was an encouraging sign that improvement is possible. Dallas rushed for 227 yards -- the most ever allowed by the Ravens in a game in their history -- and possessed the ball for a stunning 40:03 of the game's 60 minutes.

The quarterback: Romo's one interception was a damaging one, but it's tough to criticize the game he played Sunday. Especially after he led the Cowboys on an 18-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes to cut the lead to two. Romo's two-point conversion pass hit Dez Bryant in the hands, but Bryant could not catch the ball, and even though they recovered the onside kick and moved into long field-goal range with a pass interference penalty in the final seconds, Dan Bailey's 51-yard attempt missed wide left.

What's next: The Cowboys travel to Carolina to play the Panthers at 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Fans of Andre Brown and the Giants know that this means the Dallas run game will have a chance for another big day.