Commentary

Felix Jones steps up against Bucs

Thrust back into starting role, rusher delivers complete performance for Cowboys

Updated: December 18, 2011, 10:01 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- As he was getting dressed after a relatively easy night, Tony Romo made a note about Felix Jones, who has returned to the starting running back role for the Dallas Cowboys with DeMarco Murray lost for the season.

"I tell you what, Felix is a good running back," Romo said. "I think sometimes people have a tendency to just go by statistics sometimes to determine whether a guy plays well or not. Felix has been playing great."

Romo said Jones' game is about doing a bit of everything. Jones blocks, catches the ball out of the backfield, runs hard and eludes defenders.

[+] EnlargeFelix Jones
Douglas Jones/US PresswireFelix Jones ran for 108 yards against the Buccaneers, marking the first time he has had back-to-back 100-yard games.

Saturday night in a game the Cowboys had to win, Jones and veteran Sammy Morris led a rushing attack that compiled 160 yards on 37 carries. Jones rushed 22 times for 108 yards, and Morris ran for 53 yards on 12 carries as the Cowboys knocked off Tampa Bay 31-15 at Raymond James Stadium. They tore up the field as if they owned it.

The win marked the first time Jones rushed for 100 yards in consecutive games in his NFL career. For Morris, it was his first carry in an NFL game since Jan. 2, when he played for New England.

"Felix deserves a lot of credit for the way he played," Romo said. "Sammy did a good job, too, coming in for his first week here and he's out there. I was proud of the guys."

When Murray was lost for the season after suffering a fractured ankle, concerns about Jones' durability to handle a larger workload emanated outside Valley Ranch. After all, last season was the only one in which Jones has completed a full schedule. He missed four games this season with a high ankle sprain. He missed two games in 2009 and 10 in his rookie season in 2008.

Then there's the issue of Jones' conditioning. Last season against Indianapolis, he rushed for 83 yards on 22 carries but needed an IV at halftime.

And while Cowboys officials said they valued Jones by calling him a featured back, they also said he was a complementary back.

Can you be both?

Coming into the season, Jones had just one 100-yard game and one 20-plus carry game. He backed up Marion Barber for three seasons because the team thought he was, well, a complementary back.

When Barber was released this past summer, the 2011 expectations for Jones were raised. But in the first three months of the season, he never got more than 20 carries, although he did rush for 115 yards versus Washington in Week 3. Then, when he suffered an ankle injury at New England in October, it opened the door for Murray.

The Cowboys rookie turned the NFL upside-down with his 253 rushing yards versus Buffalo. In the four games Jones missed, Murray rushed for 601 yards and took firm grasp of the starting job. When Jones was able to return from his injury, he was a professional and didn't complain about losing his spot on the depth chart. Jones instead praised Murray and said he would take whatever carries the team gave him.

In his second game back from an ankle injury on Nov. 24, Jones got no carries. Happy Thanksgiving.

But Murray got hurt against the Giants on Dec. 11 and Jones stepped up, rushing for 106 yards on 16 carries.

And Saturday night the Cowboys, who all of a sudden are counting on Jones again, found out just how gritty and special he can be.

According to ESPN's Stats & Information, Jones gained 49 of his 108 rushing yards after contact. He had come into the game fourth in the league with 2.5 yards after contact per rush. Jones also had a wonderful 38-yard run where he read the blocks, got into the secondary and caused more disturbance.

"I thought Felix of course was really playing well and competing," Cowboys owner/GM Jerry Jones said. "And one of the things I wanted to see was the endurance aspect."

Felix Jones passed that test.

Of course, he wasn't around to talk about his evening. That's OK, because the man who shares his last name and graduated from the same college (Arkansas) said it best as the night closed.

"I'm really proud of him," Jerry Jones said. "I thought under the circumstances, he had about as good and complete a game here since he's been a Dallas Cowboy."

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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