Running back DeMarco Murray and wide receiver Dez Bryant celebrated the Dallas Cowboys’ monster December by breaking a pair of records that indicate just how primed this team is for a postseason run.
First, Murray wouldn’t be denied Emmitt’s Smith’s single-season Cowboys rushing record of 1,773 yards, set in 1995. His 32-yard run with 3:05 left in the first quarter allowed him to pass Smith and claim the record for his own in what has been a dominant year for Murray. By the end of the game Murray, had 100 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown, lifting him to 1,845 rushing yards for 2014.
He also finished the regular season leading the league in total scrimmage yards (2,261) and total carries (393), along with second in rushing touchdowns (13). He’s most assuredly in the Most Valuable Player discussion.
This is a far different team than the one we saw finish the 2013 season. This one brims with confidence and doesn’t crack when adversity comes.
One play after Murray passed Smith, Bryant claimed his own piece of the Cowboys’ single-season record book, catching his second touchdown pass of the day. His catch, a 23-yard corner route, needed replay to confirm as officials at first called it incomplete. But when you saw the replay it was clear both of Bryant’s feet were in the end zone. The catch gave the Cowboys a 17-7 lead and gave Bryant his 16th touchdown reception of 2014, one better than Terrell Owens’ single-season record.
Their performances underscored how sharp the Cowboys looked going into the postseason as they pounded Washington, 44-17. The Cowboys will open the postseason at home on Sunday against Detroit.
In a relatively meaningless game, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett talked about wanting to keep the team’s edge. Instead of sitting his starters for the whole game, or even an appreciable amount of the game, Garrett chose to roll the dice and play everyone. And it worked. The starters played into the fourth quarter. No one came away with a serious injury, the Cowboys won their fourth straight game and they looked like a team to be reckoned with.
The Cowboys scored on each of their first five possessions of the game, at times shoving the Redskins around like a second-string defense in the preseason, to build a 27-7 lead that the Cowboys defense held up, thanks in part to a pair of Bruce Carter interceptions and a pass rush that came alive and made quarterback Robert Griffin III’s life difficult all afternoon. The capper was Terrell McClain’s sack of Griffin, which led to a fumble and an Anthony Spencer touchdown.
Finally, the Cowboys finished the season 8-0 on the road, becoming just the sixth team in the NFL to do so in the 16-game era. How useful a barometer is such a record to determining if a team is a Super Bowl contender? Well, four of the five went to the Super Bowl. Of those four, two of them won the Super Bowl. The fifth? Well it reached the conference championship game.
So here are the Cowboys, a team most expected to fall flat on their faces in September, looking at their first foray into playoff football since 2009 on perhaps the biggest roll of any team in the NFC right now. This is a far different team than the one we saw finish the 2013 season. This one brims with confidence, plays with an unassailably physical identity and doesn’t crack when adversity comes.
Does that mean the Cowboys are headed to the Super Bowl? Not necessarily. But if Murray, Bryant and the rest of these Cowboys continue to play the way they have this December, they’ll be as tough an out as anyone in the NFC.