Road Warriors

Cowboys prove running the football on the road is their pathway to playoffs

Running the football on the road is Cowboys' pathway to playoffs

DeMarco Murray of the Dallas Cowboys
DeMarco Murray’s dominance, along with his offensive line’s, is making everyone’s job easier on both sides of the ball. Photo courtesy of Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears
Cowboys beat the Bears 41-28 in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo told reporters after the game DeMarco Murray was having a "special" year. Photo courtesy of Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
Jerry Jones has reason to smile. Photo courtesy of Dallas Cowboys
DeMarco Murray of the Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears
Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones

The last time the Dallas Cowboys lost a road game they were in Chicago to play the Bears on a frigid Monday night as the rest of the Dallas-Fort Worth area was dealing with one of the worst ice storms in years. That was December 9, 2013. The Cowboys were in the playoff race, albeit on the outskirts, and the Bears handed them a 45-28 loss.

Nearly a year to the day, the Cowboys returned the favor in the Windy City, beating the Bears, 41-28, in a game where the score didn’t necessarily indicate how much the Cowboys dominated the game or how much they’ve changed as a team in the last year.

It also proved that if the Cowboys are to make the playoffs in 2014, that road to January football will go through, well, the road.

 “People don’t understand the beating that takes,” Romo said of Murray’s nine receptions. “For him to continue and produce, that’s really special.”

These Cowboys are undefeated on the road in 2014, a pristine 6-0. They’re the only undefeated road team left in the NFL. Go back to last year, and the Cowboys have won seven straight road games. The Cowboys are doing it with a relentless running attack that on Thursday night devoured one of the top run defenses in the NFL, as Murray gained 179 yards rushing, scored a touchdown and helped the Cowboys hold the football for nearly 33 minutes.

The Cowboys are proving that running the football on the road is their pathway to success. Murray ran for 96 yards against the Washington Redskins in the Cowboys’ final road game of last year. Murray had gained at least 100 yards in each of the Cowboys’ six road wins this year. His dominance, along with his offensive line’s, is making everyone’s job easier on both sides of the ball.

“It’s a big deal,” Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo told the NFL Network after the game. “[Murray] had nine receptions too. People don’t understand the beating that takes. For him to continue and produce, that’s really special. This is a special year he’s having, and the guys up front deserve a lot of credit.”

But it will mean more the next three weeks, as the Cowboys try to close out their first playoff season since 2009.

The Cowboys have two road games remaining — at Philadelphia in 10 days and at Washington on December 28. Let’s say the Cowboys win both road games to finish 8-0 on the road. That would give the Cowboys 11 wins in the season, assuming they lose to Indianapolis on December 21.

That’s a nearly bulletproof number of wins to get to the playoffs. Just one team in the eight-division era of the NFL has failed to make the playoffs with 11 wins, and that was the 2008 New England Patriots.

The Cowboys might need every one of those 11 wins because it’s a hyper-competitive NFC, with six different teams in line to win 10 games. That’s critical because the NFC South will send a division winner with fewer than 10 wins, meaning its quite possible that a 10-win NFC team could get left out of the playoffs. The Cowboys don’t want to be that team.

The Cowboys going undefeated on the road would be a rarity for a team that didn’t finish the regular season undefeated like the 2007 Patriots or the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

The Cowboys are trying to exorcise plenty of demons this season, including three straight .500 seasons and a 10-15 record in December since 2008. Perhaps the comfort of the road is just what this Cowboys team needs to close the deal.

On Thursday night in Chicago the Cowboys showed they’re built for it.