Cowboys ride new winning formula into bye week
Nov. 15, 2014
IRVING, Texas (AP) — Jason Witten is catching fewer passes from Tony Romo and throwing more blocks for NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray.
Romo is on pace for the most efficient season of his career even though his trusty tight end has only once had a lower number of receptions through 10 games — when Witten was a rookie 11 years ago.
This is the new, winning formula for the Dallas Cowboys (7-3), who are in their best shape going into the bye since they made the playoffs as the top seed in 2007.
"It's not like they need me to sign off on it," said Witten, who has 39 catches for 431 yards with three touchdowns. "I think especially when you're at this point, where I'm at, it's like, 'Man, I want to do everything I can to hopefully get a glimpse of what a championship team feels like.'"
Even if the Cowboys needed Witten to sign off on it, he would. He's the orator of the famous "same old story" line when Dallas was in the middle of three straight 8-8 finishes with three consecutive losses in season finales with a playoff berth on the line.
The postseason drought is actually four years going back to 2010, when the Cowboys fired Wade Phillips at 1-7 and promoted Jason Garrett.
Now in his fourth full season, Garrett started this year on the proverbial hot seat before becoming a coach of the year candidate during a six-game winning streak.
"I just think part of it is being in the now," Witten said. "But the way we're doing it and the way we're playing, it's just a complete team effort from everybody and the approach. It's hard to get to these points. Definitely we haven't seen ourselves in this situation in a few years."
The biggest pause for Dallas came with a two-game skid that included Romo's third back injury in 18 months.
He missed a game with two small fractures, and the offense wasn't the same. Arizona locked down Murray in his only game without 100 yards after a record eight straight over the century mark to start the season. Backup Brandon Weeden couldn't make the Cardinals pay through the air in his only start.
Even the overachieving defense was out of sorts, unable to get key stops in an upset loss to Washington with third-stringer Colt McCoy at quarterback before having similar problems against Carson Palmer and the Cardinals.
"Just a little blip," defensive tackle Henry Melton said. "As a defense, we just really went back to the film and studied ourselves and really got back to how we got that far. And went back to work."
They get back to work with a visit to the New York Giants on Nov. 23 in a nationally televised night game. Four of the final six opponents are NFC East teams, including division-leading Philadelphia twice. The Eagles, a game better than Dallas in the loss column, visit on Thanksgiving before the Cowboys play in Philadelphia two weeks later. The finale is at Washington, a repeat of 2012 when Dallas lost with a playoff berth at stake.
Murray is no longer on pace for 2,000 yards and 400 carries. But he still has a 411-yard lead in the league's rushing race and is easily on pace to break Emmitt Smith's franchise record of 1,773 yards in 1995. And the Cowboys have been able to answer the workload issue. He's had three straight games with 19 carries after averaging 27 through the first seven weeks.
Still, the offense is Romo's province. Although Weeden played well in relief against the Redskins, the Arizona loss was a potentially troubling glimpse at life without Romo now that former backup Kyle Orton has moved on to Buffalo as the starter. But the surgically repaired back isn't hindering Romo when he does play. His quarterback rating of 107.2 will be a career high if it holds up. He had three interceptions in the first half of a season-opening loss to San Francisco — and has just three since.
His top receiver, Dez Bryant, clearly has his contract on his mind in the final year of his rookie deal. He recently changed agents and reversed his stance on negotiations, saying he was willing for talks to continue during the season.
One question is whether owner Jerry Jones is hesitant to give Bryant a long-term deal because of issues away from the field that plagued him during his first two years in the league. None of that bothered Bryant against the Jaguars in London: He set a franchise record with 158 yards receiving in one quarter, including two long catch-and-run touchdowns.
As for that surprisingly effective defense, coordinator Rod Marinelli likes to use at least eight players on his line during a game. That rotation might look a little different in the final six games. Rookie second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence made his debut against the Cardinals after missing the first eight weeks with a broken foot. Now Josh Brent is set for his first game in almost two years after his intoxication manslaughter conviction in the death of teammate Jerry Brown.
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