Next question for 3-1 Cowboys is keeping it going
IRVING, Texas (AP) — Tony Romo keeps handing the ball to DeMarco Murray, and the league’s worst defense from a year ago keeps making enough plays to finish off wins for Dallas.
Now the Cowboys just have to keep it going after a head-turning 38-17 victory over New Orleans that set up an in-state battle between a pair of surprising 3-1 teams with the Houston Texans visiting Sunday.
“You go out and lose next week and you lose all the luster and good feelings from this week,” Romo said after throwing for three touchdowns against the Saints to go with two scores from Murray in his fourth straight 100-yard game. “I think what you find is that we are consistently doing the same things each week, and in the past we weren’t able to do that.”
Dallas answered one of the worst days in franchise history a year ago in New Orleans. The Saints had an NFL-record 40 first downs and team-record 625 total yards, while the Cowboys didn’t even get to 200 yards in a 49-17 loss.
The Cowboys are showing an unflinching commitment to the running game, with Murray leading the league in rushing (534 yards so far) and averaging 25 carries and 134 yards per game. His career high in carries coming into the season was 26.
That’s the primary reason Dallas has bounced back from an opening loss to San Francisco by winning three straight to get two games over .500 for the first time since 2012.
Two seasons ago, the Cowboys lost their last two games in the second of three straight 8-8 seasons to miss the playoffs. A year earlier, they answered a four-game winning streak by dropping four of the last five.
“We can’t let the success get to our heads,” said receiver Dez Bryant, who had a touchdown on a mostly quiet night for him against the Saints. “We have to take it game by game, practice by practice and day by day. If we do that, there’s no telling what can happen.”
Even when Tennessee and St. Louis geared up to stop Murray in a pair of Dallas road wins to start the current streak, he still found his way to triple digits. The only other Dallas back with four straight 100-yard games to start the season was Emmitt Smith in 1995.
As Murray’s yards pile up, there’s a growing focus on an offensive line featuring three first-round picks the past four drafts in tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and guard Zack Martin.
The protection for Romo was iffy in the first two games, but the 34-year-old quarterback coming off back surgery has been sacked just once the past two weeks.
“We’re convicted about how we put this team together,” coach Jason Garrett said. “The physical nature that we want to play with, we have strong convictions about that.”
The defense isn’t ranked among the league’s statistical leaders because it struggled before the Cowboys rallied for beat the Rams 34-31 in Week 3. And Drew Brees bounced back with a strong second half Sunday night, allowing the Saints to finish with 438 total yards.
But Dallas kept New Orleans out of the end zone until the lead was 31-3 in the fourth quarter, and forced a three-and-out that led to a failed fake punt and the clinching score after the Saints had scored touchdowns on consecutive possessions.
The Cowboys are playing without linebacker Sean Lee because of a season-ending knee injury after cutting franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware in a salary cap move. That’s why the defenders at the top of the tackles sheet are far from household names.
“We’ve just got a lot of guys that go to work, just practice and want to win,” said defensive tackle Henry Melton, who had the only sack of Brees. “It doesn’t just take all the big names to be a good defense.”
NOTES: DE Anthony Spencer played for the first time in more than a year after microfracture surgery on his left knee last October. He played 22 snaps and had three tackles and one quarterback hit. ... LB Justin Durant led Dallas with eight tackles after missing two games with a groin injury. Fellow LB Rolando McClain returned after one game out with a groin problem.
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