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Sunday, December 2, 2012
Updated: December 3, 3:19 AM ET
Murray's impact bigger than stats

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Forget about the 83 yards Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray gained. The four catches for 19 yards don't matter either.

Neither does the touchdown he scored.

Murray's impact is bigger than any stat you want to discuss after the Dallas Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 38-33, on Sunday night.

DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray's return after a six-game absence gives the Cowboys a sliver of hope that they can make the playoffs.

He gives the Cowboys a toughness and a physical mentality they lack when he's not in the lineup.

Murray is the reason Tony Romo had his best game, passing for 303 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Murray is the reason Jason Garrett didn't abandon the run with the Cowboys trailing by a touchdown at halftime like he usually does.

He's the reason offensive line coach Bill Callahan was laughing and joking with all of his starters after the game. And he's the reason why more than one lineman talked about Garrett's commitment to running the ball the entire game.

Murray missed the past six games with a sprained foot, and that's the biggest reason the Cowboys entered the game ranked last in the NFL in rushing (78.7 yards) and attempts (22.0). They ranked 31st in average per carry (3.55) and hadn't had a run of more than 20 yards in 166 carries.

Pathetic.

Just so you know, they also ranked last in first-down rushing (3.45), which meant Romo and Garrett usually found themselves in second-and-long. No good play-call exists for that situation.

Felix Jones made a few good plays here and there with Murray out, but we all know he's never going to be more than a complementary player. Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner show little in limited opportunities.

So the burden for the entire offense was placed on Romo with poor results.

Here's the deal: No team can consistently win -- even in today's NFL -- throwing the ball 68 percent of the time, which is what the Cowboys did in their first 11 games.

The six-game absence was also difficult for Murray, who watched the Cowboys lose three of six games without him.

"I thought I was going to play against Washington, but it was a short week and the training staff just wanted to be careful," Murray said. "It was frustrating. Sometimes, I didn't even want to go to the games, but I knew my team needed my support, so I went."

Against the Eagles, the Cowboys ran 33 times and passed 27 times. It's the first time Garrett has called more runs than passes since the Cowboys ran the ball 42 times for 227 yards against Baltimore, when Murray hurt his foot.

"I knew once I got out there, I wasn't going to want to come out," Murray said. "To be honest, I wasn't expecting to get that much work. I was telling Coach, 'Hey, I'm going to come a little bit to make sure my foot is ready and right.'

"Once I got out there and adrenaline started rushing, I felt good. It's not there where I'm 100 percent. There were a couple times it got tweaked and I definitely felt it, but after a few minutes it goes away.

Murray ripped off a 14-yard run on his first carry, and Philadelphia never really slowed him down enough to discourage Garrett from giving him the ball. Murray had only 35 yards on nine carries in the first half.

But Murray gave Garrett every incentive to keep giving him the ball on the first possession of the third quarter.

With Dallas trailing 17-10, Murray gained 13 yards on the quarter's first play.

On third-and-1 from the Dallas 42, Murray bounced an inside run around the right end and gained 27 yards yards to the Philadelphia 31. It was only the Cowboys' fourth run of more than 20 yards this season.

Three plays later, Dez Bryant's 23-yard catch-and-run tied the score at 17-17.

"I was off a little bit," Murray said. "There were some runs I felt good and some I knew I had been out for six weeks."

Murray's presence was enough.

Miles Austin scored on a 27-yard touchdown pass set up by a run-fake to Murray. Jason Witten had six catches for 108 yards and his first two catches of more than 20 yards in four games. Bryant had 98 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

Murray created all of that. Every bit.

That's the kind of balance Garrett wants on offense. Now, he just needs Murray on the field for the last four games.

The Cowboys are .500, but reality says the Cowboys will miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. After all, we're talking about a team that hasn't won more than two consecutive games this season.

Murray's return gives the Cowboys a sliver of hope. For now, that must do.