Commentary

True team effort lifts Cowboys

Gritty effort by role players helps Dallas persevere when stars don't shine

Originally Published: October 14, 2013
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- A sprained knee forced Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray out of the game with 13 minutes left in the first half. He never returned. Neither did defensive end DeMarcus Ware after a strained quadriceps forced him to the sideline about seven minutes later.

At halftime, each was ruled out for the rest of the game. Right then, any and every excuse the Cowboys wanted to use for losing and dropping to a two games under .500 was readily available. They eschewed all of them.

Situations like the one the Cowboys experienced Sunday night are the reason head coach Jason Garrett is forever talking about filling this roster with the "right kind of guys."

[+] EnlargeDwayne Harris
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty ImagesOn a night the Cowboys struggled offensively, Dwayne Harris contributed with 222 return yards.

The right kind of guys are dudes who understand how to play through the adversity of a bad call. Or a poor possession. Or an awful quarter. They understand that challenges in the NFL occur at a rapid pace, and those who can't handle it are ultimately doomed to fail.

They understand the importance of moving onto the next play or next game, whether the previous one was good or bad.

Dallas 31, Washington 16.

This one required grit and guile. This one required a relentless spirit, one of Garrett's favorite topics.

This one required an entire team. Backup quarterback Kyle Orton was the only player on the Cowboys' active roster who didn't play. But this win wasn't about the stars. It was about the other guys.

You know, guys such as Dwayne Harris, who had an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 90-yard kickoff return that set up another. And Terrance Williams, who scored a 15-yard touchdown on a sensational over-the-shoulder catch.

And anonymous players such as defensive end Kyle Wilber and defensive linemen Drake Nevis and Nick Hayden, who harassed Robert Griffin III all night.

Wilber, a fourth-round pick last season, made one of the game's biggest plays. His sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery at the Washington 3-yard line set up backup running back Joseph Randle's 1-yard scoring run that pushed the lead to 31-16 with 8:56 left.

The Cowboys' much-maligned defense, which sacked Griffin three times, played so hard that when Washington was stopped on fourth-and-9 with 2:10 left, Hayden and cornerback Brandon Carr dropped to their knees.

Tony Romo orchestrated the entire show with a conservative approach on a night the Cowboys would have struggled to survive had there been a litany of mistakes or turnovers. Romo passed for 170 yards, the fifth-lowest yardage total in a game he started and finished.

"It was a great win for our football team," Garrett said. "Each of the three phases showed up, and the starting players showed up in this ballgame.

[+] EnlargeKyle Wilber
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesKyle Wilber recovers a fumble after knocking the ball loose from Robert Griffin III. The play set up the game's final touchdown.

"I thought Dwayne did an outstanding job. Brandon Carr did an outstanding job. Jason Hatcher played an outstanding football game, but there are a lot of guys playing who haven't been around here real long. A lot of new faces. Those guys just battling their asses off, playing as hard as they can, playing as well as they can, and really stepping up and making an impact on this football game."

Now, the Cowboys head to Philadelphia for a first-place battle in what is shaping up as a two-team race in the NFC East since Washington (1-4) and the New York Giants (0-6) seem to be positioning themselves for high draft picks and new regimes.

It should be fun. Two good offenses. Two suspect defenses. And the Cowboys will probably have to win without Ware and Murray, two of their best players. To compensate, the Cowboys must play with the same effort and tenacity they did against Washington. They're also going to need all three phases again. Think about it.

Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan hasn't called many running plays with Murray in the lineup, and Romo has vetoed many of the ones he has sent in.

Callahan and Romo will look at it pragmatically. If you rank the proven playmakers on offense, Randle is behind Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Miles Austin, Harris and Cole Beasley. Gavin Escobar and James Hanna too. Sounds like they're going to throw it a lot, right? It all depends on how well they can block the Eagles.

They're also going to need strong special-teams and defensive performances. They can't win relying solely on Romo and the offense.

"There's something to be said for grinding out these types of wins," Witten said. "Obviously, there's a lot of football left to play, but we've been on the other end of those games where you're fighting back and forth and you end up with a loss."

Not this time. The right kind of guys made the difference.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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