Tag Archives: Felix Jones

AROUND THE NFL: Steelers acquire ex-Cowboys RB Felix Jones from Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles' Felix Jones arrives at NFL football training camp in Philadelphia July 25, 2013 - The Boys Are Back blog

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers bolstered their injury-plagued backfield Friday, acquiring former Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones from Philadelphia for linebacker Adrian Robinson.

The deal is pending each player passing a physical.

Jones, 26, gives the Steelers needed depth at running back. Rookie Le’Veon Bell is out with a sprained right foot and is out indefinitely. Isaac Redman is dealing with a nerve injury, and return specialist LaRod Stephens-Howling sat out last Monday’s preseason game against Washington with a sprained knee.

Jones was the 22nd overall pick in the 2008 draft by the Cowboys but never stayed healthy enough to become a feature back. He rushed for 2,728 yards and 11 touchdowns in 64 games with Dallas.

It’s unlikely the Steelers consider Jones a short-term replacement for Bell, who sprained his foot against the Redskins. Bell said Thursday he is optimistic he’ll be able to return quickly.

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PHILLY-BOUND BACK: Ex-Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones agrees to join Eagles

dallas cowboys running back felix jones (28) dives for the end zone vs washington redskins - the boys are back blog

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles have signed former Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones to a one-year contract.

A former first-round selection by Dallas in 2008, Jones has rushed for 2,728 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He has 127 receptions for 1,062 yards and three TDs. Jones had 402 yards rushing and three TDs last year, along with 25 receptions for 262 yards and two scores.


Editors note: Keep up with the 2013 DALLAS COWBOYS FREE AGENT LIST by clicking on the button below …

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STATE OF THE NFC EAST ADDRESS: 2013-2014 Dallas Cowboys

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What’s changing

Say what you will about Jerry Jones, but the Dallas Cowboys owner didn’t lie when he promised it would get “very uncomfortable” at Valley Ranch after a second straight 8-8 season. Rob Ryan was sent packing as defensive coordinator and replaced by 72-year-old Monte Kiffin, who will switch the Cowboys to a 4-3 scheme. Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan likely will inherit play-calling duties from coach Jason Garrett. Running backs coach Skip Peete was fired and replaced by Gary Brown.

Biggest free agents

» OLB/DE Anthony Spencer: With Kiffin moving to a 4-3, the Cowboys need another strong presence on the edge opposite DeMarcus Ware. Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones has great respect for Spencer, and the team has the option of using the franchise tag.

» RB Felix Jones: A former first-round pick, Jones had a shot at Dallas redemption when DeMarco Murray went down for six games with a foot injury. Jones (playing on two bad knees) couldn’t fill the void, one reason why the Cowboys set a franchise low for rushing yards in a 16-game season.

» CB Mike Jenkins: The additions of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne put Jenkins in limbo last season, and a slow recovery from shoulder surgery didn’t help. He worked in the slot after Orlando Scandrick went down, making little impact. He’s expected to look for a starting job on the open market.

Other key free agents: C Phil Costa, SS Danny McCray, WR Kevin Ogletree.

What they need

The Cowboys are overdue for a makeover along their offensive line. It was a problem all season, and quarterback Tony Romo’s mobility is the only thing that kept this unit from total embarrassment. Tyron Smith is a good fit at left tackle, but upgrades should be sought elsewhere. If Jones has run out of chances, the Cowboys would be wise to find a capable backup for Murray, a supremely talented but seemingly injury-prone starter. The Cowboys must protect themselves at strong safety, where Barry Church is attempting to come back from a torn Achilles tendon.

Offseason crystal ball

The Cowboys are currently $20 million over the cap and will need to restructure contracts with several players to get under. In other words, don’t expect a big fish to land in Big D next month. Improving the offensive and defensive line likely will be a focus during the NFL Draft. With Romo turning 33 before Week 1, don’t be surprised if the Cowboys draft a developmental quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds.

ROSTER REVIEW: Final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys

america's team - dallas cowboys helmet 2012 - the boys are back blog

No more whistles, no more playbooks, no more coach’s dirty looks. Sure, not quite as catchy as the iconic “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks,” but we’re talking football grades here, not math, science and social studies.

The biggest difference in grading pupils and players is expectations. All students are created equal; not so much for a professional football team. Just doesn’t make sense to hold Miles Austin, one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the game and a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Cole Beasley, an undrafted free agent rookie, to the same standard. Ditto for DeMarcus Ware, headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and some dude signed off his couch midseason. Not even Batman.

Without further ado, here are our final grades for the 2012 Dallas Cowboys:

QUARTERBACKS

Tony Romo – B

This one is difficult, because for 80-plus percent of the season, 13-of-16 games, Romo played as well as any quarterback in franchise history. Yes, including Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. His numbers for those contests include 303.1 yards per game, 24 touchdown passes, seven picks and a 100.2 rating. Even with the other three games – vs. the Bears and Giants and at the Redskins – Romo had the league’s sixth-highest rating by Football Outsiders, behind only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.

He threw for nearly 5,000 yards, and on many occasions was his own best pass protector in terms of finding an extra second or two. There were times when he was brilliant, and never before has he shown the leadership he did this season. Still, in the end, Romo flunked his final. Again. That’s not easy to write. Romo has been sort of the teacher’s pet these last five years, but there is no excuse for those final two picks at Washington.

Kyle Orton – I

He broke Clint Longley’s 38-year-old mark for highest passer rating (minimum 10 attempts) with a ridiculous 137.1. Played just the one game, though, giving him an incomplete.

RUNNING BACKS

DeMarco Murray – C

A disappointing season for the second-year back who was expected to anchor the offensive load. Didn’t rush for 100 yards after Week 1 at the Giants and rarely showed the explosiveness from his rookie season with just five 20-plus carries. Finished tied for 21st in the league with 2.5 yards per attempt after contact. He also picked the worst of times for his first two NFL fumbles. His durability has also become a concern as he has missed nine of the team’s last 19 games with injuries.

Felix Jones – C

Finished with more offensive touches than expected, was much improved in picking up the blitz, caught the ball well, and for the most part, maximized his rushing yards with the gaps provided. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry after entering the year at 5.1 for his career.

Lance Dunbar – B

Was impressed with the free agent rookie from North Texas from the first preseason game through Week 17. Finished with eight special teams tackles, was solid if unspectacular on kick returns and showed a little burst on offense. Should play a bigger role in 2013.

Phillip Tanner – C

Solid on special teams with 10 tackles, although he didn’t show much in limited action carrying the ball.

Lawrence Vickers – C

Showed promise catching passes, that little dump-off was seemingly always available. But his blocking was average and his four penalties in 305 snaps was the highest percentage of any fullback playing 25 percent of his team’s snaps.

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PLAYER EVALUATIONS: Millionaire Miles, Felix Jones, stopping the run, and the Jenkins factor

Dallas Cowboys WR Miles Austin nearly breaks free for a TD vs Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

The season is over and it’s time to think about a few things. For example, is Miles Austin earning his money? Is it time for Felix Jones, who’s now a free agent, to find a new team? What do the Cowboys need to stop the run in 2013? And finally, should Dallas keep cornerback Mike Jenkins?

1. In 2010, Miles Austin signed a seven-year $57.1 million contract. Austin’s deal meant a few things: He moved into an elite level in regards with his contract and was to become the No. 1 receiver on the Cowboys. After signing that deal, Dez Bryant surpassed him as a bigger threat, Austin has had just one 1,000 yard season, 2010, he fell 57 yards short of it in 2012 and his health continues to be a question. He failed to finish the game against Washington on Sunday night because of a high-ankle sprain. He’s endured hamstring issues the last two seasons. Austin is scheduled to earn $6.7 million in 2013 and it raises a question: Is Austin earning his money? I doubt if the Cowboys are going to release Austin because no matter how good Bryant is, there is still an unpredictability about him away from the field. Austin is a good player but the team needs more from him considering the money he’s making.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo hands the ball off to Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones

2. Felix Jones won’t return in 2013 but he did finish the final game of the season with 24 yards on five carries. Jones hit holes with a burst and seemed to run with little limitations. He’s battled injuries to both knees and he probably should have stayed on the bench. But he displayed a toughness that was necessary from the running back position. Jones was put in a bad situation by the Cowboys. He was drafted as a backup to then-starter Marion Barber. When Barber’s health started to betray him, the Cowboys asked Jones to become a starter but his own health failed him too. It’s time for Jones, who becomes a free agent, to find a new team and for the Cowboys to stop drafting players to become backups. If the Cowboys draft a running back this spring, it should be designed to give competition to DeMarco Murray. If Murray is better than the new back, fine, keep the job. Life for a NFL running back is dangerous. One week he’s healthy, the next he’s not and you need to have quality ones on the depth chart. Jones is an average running back, but not starters material and when it was time for him to take over for an injured Murray and Barber, he couldn’t do the job on a consistent basis.

2012 Dallas Cowboys defense loses Bruce Carter to IR - The Boys Are Back blog

3. Want to know why the Cowboys failed to stop the run in 2012? They lost of four players that clogged the middle of the field. Jay Ratliff (injury), Josh Brent (suspension), Sean Lee (injury) and Bruce Carter (injury) were the force up the gut for the Cowboys. When the Cowboys didn’t have Ratliff at the start of the season, the club still had Brent a solid run stopper. But when Brent was lost, Sean Lissemore was moved from defensive end to nose tackle. The Cowboys also moved Robert Callaway and signed Brian Schaefering to help inside. Lee and Carter replacements at inside linebacker were Dan Connor, Ernie Sims and at times Alex Albright. The backups failed to produce for the Cowboys as evident by the run defense allowing at least 100 yards in six of the last seven weeks of the season. Moving forward the Cowboys need to draft or sign another inside linebacker in free agency who can provide depth. The Cowboys allowed 274 rushing yards in the regular season finale and gave up at least 150 rushing yards twice and 125 or more yards five times. It’s hard to win games when that happens regularly.

Dallas Cowboys CB Mike Jenkins vs New York Giants - The Boys Are Back blog

4. The Cowboys have 16 unrestricted free agents and one of them is a former first-round pick, cornerback Mike Jenkins. It seems the Cowboys were never quite happy with Jenkins the entire offseason. He didn’t rehab his surgically repaired shoulder in Dallas, instead doing it in Florida. Jenkins didn’t attend the voluntary workouts, although he was there for the mandatory sessions. But as is always the case in the NFL, injuries dictate a lot of things. Jenkins saw playing time, especially when slot corner Orlando Scandrick went down with a hand injury. Jenkins even played some at safety and on special teams. It appears Jenkins may not return in 2013, leaving the Cowboys looking for a fourth corner in free agency or the draft. "Do I want to come back?" Jenkins asked. "I’ve grown attached, I’ve been here for five years, I’ve grown attached to everybody here. It’s hard to just get up and leave and not want to come back. At the same time ,you want to go somewhere and have a fair opportunity and I guess go on from there."

INJURY–PRACTICE UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins

Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware missed practice Wednesday with shoulder and elbow injuries. He played in only 59 of 95 plays in Sunday’s game after leaving with a shoulder strain. He left with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter and returned for one play of overtime. He said Wednesday that he would play Sunday.

Five other players missed practice, which was moved indoors to Cowboys Stadium. Linebacker Brady Poppinga and nose tackle Robert Callaway had travel problems getting back to DFW after the two-day Christmas break. Defensive end Jason Hatcher (thigh) said he would play Sunday. Linebacker Victor Butler (groin) also was out. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff, who had sports hernia surgery two weeks ago, will be out again this week.

Linebacker Alex Albright (knee) was limited.

Receiver Dez Bryant (finger), running back DeMarco Murray (foot), running back Felix Jones (knee) and linebacker Ernie Sims (concussion) were full participants.

RELATED: Jason Hatcher’s thigh will be fine come Sunday, he says

Defensive end Jason Hatcher said he missed practice only as a precaution. His thigh will be "100 percent by the time Sunday comes," Hatcher promises.

"It’s doing good," Hatcher said Wednesday. "I’m a veteran. I understand. I listen to my body. It was one of those days I felt like I should have just rested a little bit more. Tomorrow, I’ll do a little bit more.

"Am I worried about me playing Sunday? No."

Hatcher has had 68 tackles, 4 sacks and 21 quarterback pressures this season.

RELATED: DeMarcus Ware promises to play through pain

Linebacker DeMarcus Ware said he will not wear any type of harness on his strained shoulder nor will be take a pain-killing injection. But he will be in the lineup come Sunday.

"I feel a lot better right now," Ware said Wednesday. "I’m going regardless."

Ware, who already was playing with a hyperextended elbow, had to leave last week’s game with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter after "tweaking" the shoulder. He returned for a third-down play in overtime. Ware played 59 of 95 plays. He did not practice Wednesday.

"I’m going to tell you something, 75 percent of DeMarcus Ware is probably better than 90 percent of the guys who play the position at the end of the day," Cowboys defensive end Jason Hatcher said. "I’ll take 75 percent vs. no DWare any day. Wherever he is right now, I’ll take it."

Ware has never missed a game in his NFL career and has failed to start only one of 127 games. He didn’t start a 2009 game against New Orleans because of a neck injury.

Ware has 11.5 sacks this season, but only 2.5 have come in the past seven games. He has been without a sack in three of his past five games.

COWBOYS AND KIDS: Players made their annual visits to area hospitals

Jacson Creel, 3,(cq) high fives Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) at Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth - The Boys Are Back blog

On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers to move into a first-place tie in the NFC East.

On Monday, the Cowboys got a special reward for their effort.

Team members made their annual visits to area hospitals — Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth and, in Dallas, Children’s Medical Center, Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children and Medical City Children’s Hospital.

"With a win or a loss, it’s going to be great for us," said linebacker Sean Lee, one of 10 players who visited Medical City.

"With a loss, it cheers us up. With a win, we’re excited to come in anyway. It’s really a great perspective for us to come in and see these kids [who] show us that anything we’re dealing with doesn’t compare to what they’re dealing with."

Dallas Cowboys practice squad wide receiver Tim Benford (16) visits with Alex Lisenby, 8, and his dad Kent, right, at Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth - The Boys Are Back blog

DeMarcus Ware and Morris Claiborne, both fathers of young children, acknowledged that their trip to Cook Children’s had even deeper significance than in previous years in light of Friday’s mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.

"You’ve got to hold them a little tighter," Ware said. "You look at the kids, that’s where the real joy is … it’s the closest to praising God.

"You never know what they’re going through. Just spreading that touch to them and letting them know that someone out there cares for them, that’s what life’s about."

It was rookie Claiborne’s first time to join about 20 teammates in signing autographs, distributing gifts and visiting young patients.

"You never know what people are going through and the impact that you can make on those kids just from them seeing you," Claiborne said. "It’s great."

Landry Noble, 2, slaps hands with Dallas Cowboys guard Derrick Dockery (76) at Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth - The Boys Are Back blog

Quarterback Tony Romo was one of 28 players who visited Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. He met bright-eyed Tia, 7, an Argyle native who was scheduled to have heart surgery later in the day.

"She is adorable," Romo said. "She has personality. We will really be praying for her as she goes through surgery."

Tia’s parents, Nicole and John Hackett, passed out pink "Team Tia" shirts to the players, including Romo.

"It’s phenomenal," Nicole Hackett said of the players’ visit. "This is a great way to relax a little bit, take a deep breath and have some smiles."

Romo acknowledged that being a new father makes him a little more sensitive to the importance of the annual hospital visits.

"As a father, it changes you a little, just a sense of how much you really care," Romo said. "We are blessed to be able to do what we do. We play a game for a living. The thing a lot of us take advantage of is health, to be able to walk. To come here and see kids who can’t do that — it makes you want to make them smile and brighten their day a little bit, especially this time of year."

Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones (28) visits with Tera Harris and McKayla, 3, at Cook Children's Hospital in Fort Worth - The Boys Are Back blog

Running back DeMarco Murray agreed, although he showed no mercy in beating one of the children in a game of Connect 4. Romo lost to the same child.

But Murray is a self-proclaimed Connect 4 expert. He downloaded the app on his phone and plays all the time.

"It’s great to be able to come out here and bless kids," said Murray, who also spent time painting with a girl. "It gives you a spark, not only about football but about life.

"It makes you so thankful."

THE BALANCING ACT: DeMarco Murray’s impact bigger than stats

Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray runs against the Philadelphia Eagles - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON, Texas – Think about the 83 yards Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray gained. The four catches for 19 yards also mattered.

So does the touchdown he scored.

Beyond that, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

ASSESSING THE DAMAGE: Five positions ravaged by injury

Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones (28) jumps past Washington Redskins free safety Madieu Williams - The Boys Are Back blog

The Dallas Cowboys head into the weekend with injuries to several starters and main backups that affect five positions. We review.

Inside linebacker

Injured: Bruce Carter (elbow), Sean Lee (toe)

Healthy: Dan Connor, Ernie Sims and Alex Albright

Outlook: Lee is done for the season and Carter’s elbow was dislocated but it popped back into place during the loss to Washington. At one point, Sims and Connor played with the first-team defense. Carter’s season isn’t done, unless results from Friday’s MRI reveal something different. Two of the Cowboys’ best defensive players are at this position and they don’t have any of them. Carter has been an excellent player this season, more so when Lee went out. Now the Cowboys have two veterans who must pick up the slack.

Cornerback

Injured: Orlando Scandrick (hand)

Healthy: Mike Jenkins, Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Vince Agnew

Outlook: The issue here is Scandrick’s season. He underwent surgery on Friday morning to repair a broken left hand. It hasn’t been determined if his season is over, however, he’s had trouble securing the ball with two healthy hands. With a bad one, you have to wonder if the Cowboys still want him out there. The Cowboys can use Jenkins as the slot corner, but he’s endured back issues of late and played on Thursday. Agnew was inactive for the Redskins game and that most likely will change if Scandrick is out for the Philadelphia Eagles game on Dec. 2.

Running back

Injured: DeMarco Murray (foot) and Felix Jones (knees)

Healthy: Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner

Outlook: Jones should be given credit for playing through some health issues, but he always has something wrong with him and you can’t depend on him long-term. Murray has missed the last six games with his foot injury and owner Jerry Jones said he’s not sure when the starter will return. It might be time to give Dunbar and Tanner the bulk of the game carries and give Jones limited opportunities, at least until Murray returns.

Wide receiver

Injured: Miles Austin (hip) and Kevin Ogletree (concussion)

Healthy: Dez Bryant, Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley and Andre Holmes

Outlook: Ogletree missed the Redskins game and Austin was hurt during the 38-31 loss. Currently Bryant is the most accomplished receiver on the team who is healthy. Bryant has played well the last month, but he can’t do it alone. Beasley and Harris played pretty well during the Redskins game as the Cowboys mounted a comeback. More snaps for Beasley, whom quarterback Tony Romo likes, could help the struggling offense.

Offensive line

Injured: Ryan Cook (knee), Phil Costa (ankle), Tyron Smith (ankle)

Healthy: Jeremy Parnell, Derrick Dockery, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Nate Livings, Doug Free,David Arkin, Kevin Kowalski.

Outlook: Cowboys got away with using Smith as the swing tackle on Thanksgiving Day knowing he’s not 100 percent. Cook and Costa’s return are uncertain. Parnell didn’t embarrass himself against Washington, so if Smith isn’t ready he could earn another start. The center spot is troubling, given the health of Costa, who might need another week, and Cook, whom many thought would be ready to play by now.

Note: The defensive line has issues too with end Jason Hatcher going down with a concussion late in the Redskins game. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff and backup lineman Sean Lissemore are also nursing injuries, though those players could return soon.

MILESTONES: Achieved during Washington Redskins @ Dallas Cowboys game

Here are the historical notes compiled after todays game with the Washington Redskins:

The Dallas Cowboys had 458 yards of total offense today. It was the second-most total yardage output for the club this season behind its 481 yards at Baltimore (10/14). It was also the club’s fifth 400-yard game of the season – tied for the eighth-most in a season in franchise history. Six times the club had six games with 400-plus yards and the club record is eight, established in 2009.

Dan Bailey was true on all three of his field goal tries, including a career-long tying 51-yarder. Today was the third time he hit a 51-yard field goal. The first was against St. Louis (10/23/11) and the second was against the N.Y. Giants (10/28/12).

Bailey’s three field goal conversions today gave him his 10th career game making three-plus field goals. He is now tied with Chris Boniol for the third-most games with three-or-more field goals converted in team history. Richie Cunningham (11) is second and Rafael Septien (21) has the team-high.

Dez Bryant led the team with a career-high tying 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns on eight catches. He had an 85-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter today. It was the longest catch of his career, tied for the ninth-longest play in team history and was the longest pass reception by a Cowboy since Jason Tucker had a 90-yard touchdown catch against the N.Y. Giants (1/2/00).

Bryant’s 145 yards today gave him 2,369 for his career and allowed him to pass Daryl Johnston (2,227), Preston Pearson (2,274), Raghib Ismail (2,281), Joey Galloway (2,341) and Bill Howton (2,368) for 21st in franchise history.

Bryant’s touchdown catches gave him his third straight game with a scoring reception – tying the longest streak in his career.

Bryant’s multiple touchdown reception game today was his second multi-touchdown game of the season and fourth of his career. It also gave him 21 career touchdown catches to move past Butch Johnson (19) and Terry Glenn (20) for 14th in franchise history.

Bryant’s 145-yard outing tied the second-most yards by a Cowboys receiver on Thanksgiving Day. Michael Irvin has the high (157 – vs. Pittsburgh, 11/28/91) and both Lance Rentzel (vs. St. Louis, 11/23/67) and Miles Austin (vs. Oakland, 11/26/09) were also tied for second with 145 each.

Tyrone Crawford had his first career sack (for 0 yards) today. It occurred in the second quarter.

Felix Jones finished today’s game with six rushes for 14 yards and three catches for 47 yards with a touchdown. His touchdown catch gave him a score in his third consecutive game (two receiving and one rush). It is the second-longest touchdown streak in his career behind a four-game streak in weeks 1-4 of his rookie season in 2008 (three rush and one kickoff return).

Jones caught three passes today to give him 127 for his career and break a tie with Pettis Norman and Alvin Harper (124) and tie Eric Bjornson for 35th in team history.

Jones’ 47 receiving yards today upped his career receiving yards total to 1,062 and pass Mike Ditka for 42nd in club record books.

Brian Moorman netted 52.3 yards on his three punts today. His 52.3 net was second in his career. His career-high was 53.0 at Kansas City (12/13/09).

Jermey Parnell made his first career start today. He started at left tackle in place of Tyron Smith (ankle).

Charlie Peprah intercepted his first pass as a Dallas Cowboy in the fourth quarter of today’s game. It was the eighth pick of his career.

Tony Romo finished today’s game completing 37-of-62 passes for 441 yards with three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Romo’s 62 attempts tied his club record while his 37 completions were a career-best and second in franchise history. His 441 yards were a career-high and good for third in franchise history.

Single-Game Highs

Attempts No. Player Opp (Date)
  62 Tony Romo vs. N.Y. Giants (10/28/12)
  62 Tony Romo vs. Washington (11/22/12)
  57 Troy Aikman vs. Minnesota (11/26/98)
Completions No. Player Opp (Date)
  41 Tony Romo at N.Y. Giants (12/6/09)
  37 Tony Romo vs. Washington (11/22/12)
  36 Tony Romo vs. N.Y. Giants (10/28/12)
Passing Yards No. Player Opp (Date)
  460 Don Meredith at San Francisco (11/10/69)
  455 Troy Aikman vs. Minnesota (11/26/98)
  441 Tony Romo vs. Washington (11/22/12)

Romo’s 85-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant was the longest pass completion of his career. It also tied the ninth-longest completion in franchise history and was the longest since a 90-yard Troy Aikman-to-Jason Tucker scoring hookup against the N.Y.Giants (1/2/00).

Romo’s three scoring throws today gave him 92 touchdowns in home games to pass Danny White (91) for the most home touchdowns in franchise history. Romo accomplished the feat in his 47th home appearance while White did it in 84.

Romo’s three touchdown passes today gave him 52 career multiple-touchdown games to improve his club-high and allow him to tie for fifth in the NFL since becoming a starter in 2006:

Cowboys Career Multi-TD Games

Player Games
Tony Romo 52
Roger Staubach 48
Danny White 44
Troy Aikman 43
Don Meredith 41

NFL Multi-TD Games (since 2006)

Player Games
Drew Brees 70
Tom Brady 61
Philip Rivers 61
Peyton Manning 57
Tony Romo 52
Eli Manning 51

Romo’s three touchdown tosses today gave him 165 for his career and tied him with Troy Aikman for the all-time Dallas Cowboys club record.

Romo now has 27 career games with three-or-more touchdowns, upping his club record.

Romo now has 26 career three-touchdown games – the most in Cowboys history, fourth among all-time undrafted quarterbacks and the fourth-most in the NFL since 2006:

Cowboys Career Three-TD Games

Player Games
Tony Romo 26
Danny White 20
Roger Staubach 17
Don Meredith 14
Troy Aikman 10

All-Time Three-TD Games (Undrafted Free-Agents)

Player Games
Kurt Warner 34
Dave Krieg 31
Warren Moon 27
Tony Romo 26

NFL Three-TD Games (since 2006)

Player Games
Drew Brees 42
Tom Brady 34
Peyton Manning 33
Aaron Rodgers 29
Tony Romo 26
Philip Rivers 25

Romo’s 441 passing yards today was his fifth 300-yard game of the season and the 37th of his career. Dallas now holds a 23-14 (.622) record when Romo tops 300 yards.

Romo’s 441 yards was his second 400-yard game of the season and the third of his career. Romo’s three career 400-yard games sets a club record while his two this season also establish a single-season club record.

Romo threw for 441 yards today to give him 3,357 for the season. Romo now has five 3,000-yard seasons to tie Troy Aikman for the most in team history. Danny White is third with four.

Thanksgiving Day Single-Game Highs

Attempts No. Player Opp (Date)
  62 Tony Romo vs. Washington (11/22/12)
  57 Troy Aikman vs. Minnesota (11/26/98)
  44 Drew Bledsoe vs. Denver (11/24/05)
Completions No. Player Opp (Date)
  37 Tony Romo vs. Washington (11/22/12)
  34 Troy Aikman vs. Minnesota (11/26/98)
  30 Troy Aikman vs. Minnesota (11/23/00)
  30 Jon Kitna vs. New Orleans (11/25/10)
Passing Yards No. Player Opp (Date)
  455 Troy Aikman vs. Minnesota (11/26/98)
  441 Tony Romo vs. Washington (11/22/12)
  356 Troy Aikman vs. Tennessee (11/27/97)

Romo’s 62 pass attempts today upped his Thanksgiving Day pass attempts total to 221 and pass Danny White (187) for second in team history. Troy Aikman has the high with 341.

In completing 37 passes today, Romo has completed 142 Thanksgiving Day passes to pass Danny White (112) for second in team history. Troy Aikman has the high with 211.

With 441 passing yards today, Romo has thrown for 1,808 Thanksgiving Day yards. He passed Danny White (1,545) for second in team history behind Troy Aikman’s 2,280.

Romo’s three touchdown tosses today gave him 17 for Thanksgiving. He broke a tie with Danny White for the most touchdown throws on Thanksgiving Day in Cowboys record books.

Anthony Spencer had 2.0 sacks today, his sixth career multiple sack game and second of the season.

Spencer’s 2.0 sacks today gave him three straight games with at least a half sack – the third time in his career he has had that streak. His first three-game streak came in 2009 (Weeks 15-17) and the second in 2011 (Weeks 1-3).

In finishing today’s game with 74 receiving yards, Jason Witten now has 8,619 for his career to pass Paul Warfield 8,565 and Laveranues Coles (8,609) for 64th all-time in NFL history.

Witten led the team with nine catches today to give him 82 for the season, giving him his sixth season with at least 80receptions. Witten’s six 80-catch seasons ties Tony Gonzalez for the most all-time among league tight ends. Witten’s six also tie Gonzalez and six others for the sixth-most 80-catch seasons among all pass catchers in NFL history.Jerry Rice has the NFL record with 12.

BREAKING DOWN THE WALL: Tackles, right side of line, Felix struggle protecting Tony Romo

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) looks up at Dallas Cowboys tackle Doug Free (68) after getting sacked - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Browns took down quarterback Tony Romo seven times Sunday after averaging just 2.2 sacks per game entering Cowboys Stadium.  They would have finished with eight sacks had defensive back Sheldon Brown not been penalized for illegal contact in the first quarter.

Every sack that counted occurred after left tackle Tyron Smith left the game with an ankle injury, which could keep him out for an extended period of time. Unless Kevin Kowalski works in at center or one of the centers can return from injury to allow Mackenzy Bernadeau to shift back to guard, this is the likely starting group again Thursday against the Redskins.

Eight different Browns players recorded at least half a sack, and none of those players had more than two sacks on the season at the time. Romo still threw for 313 yards despite, not because of, the amount of time he had to throw.

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo (9) scrambles away from the pressure of Cleveland's Jabaal Sheard - The Boys Are Back blog

With the Cowboys’ offensive line in a state of flux, it would be easy to simply blame the entire group for the constant pressure from the Browns’ defensive line and linebackers.

But that’s not the reality. Every play, only one or two players missed their assignments.

Cleveland Browns defensive end Juqua Parker pulls down Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo - The Boys Are Back blog

There were a few trends in the sacks. Four of them occurred in the second half or overtime, when Romo threw the majority of his passes. Five of them occurred in shotgun formation. They weren’t always the fault of the backups, though rarely could guard Nate Livings be pinpointed as the problem.

Both tackles struggled and Doug Free was partially responsible for four of the seven sacks, but no one lineman can shoulder the entire blame. Sometimes, the sacks weren’t on the offensive line at all.

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo sacked seven times vs Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

Here’s a breakdown of the seven sacks on Romo:

First sack (9:53 left in second quarter):

On a third-and-12, Romo sets up in shotgun with Jason Witten and Lawrence Vickers to either side of him. Romo sends Kevin Ogletree in motion and the receivers all go deep. They’re all 30 yards downfield before any of them get open. Backup tackle Jermey Parnell gets burned inside by Juqua Parker and doesn’t get any help in the backfield, as Witten and Vickers both ran routes. Romo could have dumped it off to Vickers to avoid the four-man rush, but he didn’t have much time to think before Parker hits him.

Second Sack (5:07 left in second quarter)

It’s the first offensive play since allowing the sack on the previous drive, and again the only routes run fewer than 10 yards were by Vickers and Witten, who were both covered. Dez Bryant ran a deep in, Miles Austin ran a go route and neither of them were open. Defensive end Jabaal Sheard got outside of tackle Doug Free, forcing Romo to move up in the pocket. John Hughes worked around Bernadeau and right guard Derrick Dockery was too late to help. Even if the receivers did get open, Romo wouldn’t have had time to deliver a pass before Hughes got to him.

Third Sack (1:51 left in second quarter)

Later on the same drive, the Cowboys faced a crucial third-and-10 while trailing by 13 points at the Browns’ 41-yard line. In a three-receiver set, Romo took the shotgun snap with Witten and Lance Dunbar to either side of him. Everyone got their blocks except for Free, who Sheard went right around. No receiver got open and Romo was hit before he could even begin his escape attempt. The Cowboys had to punt after driving 32 yards.

Fourth Sack (6:08 left in third quarter)

The Cowboys put themselves in prime position for their first score with a second-and-6 on the Browns’ 19 yard-line. The play was busted from the get go as running back Felix Jones moved left and Romo faked right on what appeared to be a play action pass. Jones couldn’t get over to his right to help in blitz pick up against incoming linebacker Kaluka Maiava and safety Usama Young. Free was also slow to get to Maiava near the line of scrimmage. Romo had some choice words for Jones afterward, as the Cowboys were forced into a third-and-long. Parnell was called for holding on the next play, and the drive resulted in a field goal.

Fifth Sack (7:21 left in fourth quarter)

The sack occurred immediately before Bryant’s go-ahead touchdown reception, and again, it happened at the Browns’ 19-yard line. Romo looks to his left in the shotgun with three receivers on the outside. Had the throw been there, the protection was good enough initially to get a pass off. After his pump fake, he was toast. Free’s man got free inside, forcing Dockery to help. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, the lineman Dockery was blocking initially, went right around Free, who stayed on his man. Rubin then took down Romo on a wide open shot, though the Cowboys salvaged the drive shortly after.

Sixth sack (5:10 left in fourth quarter)

This was the sack most people will remember, causing the Cowboys’ lone turnover of the day on Romo’s fumble.

On a first-and-20 on the Browns’ 28-yard line, Austin got inside his defender down the middle of the field, while Bryant beat his man on a go route by about two or three yards. By the time any of those routes opened up, Romo was in the process of being sacked and stripped.

Seven Browns defenders stayed near the line of scrimmage, matched by seven Cowboys blockers. Parnell didn’t block anyone on the play.  Livings stayed with defensive tackle Billy Wynn, while Parnell let defensive end Frostee Rucker move inside untouched on a stunt. Bernadeau was ready for such a move, but he let Rucker go straight by him. Rucker forced the fumble on Romo, allowing linebacker Craig Robertson to corral the football.

Seventh sack (13:53 left in OT)

Nobody was within 10 yards of Witten down the middle of the field on a first-and-10 pass at the Dallas 40-yard line. Romo could have hit the tight end to get near field goal range had he had a split second longer, but the Browns beat Free on the blitz for the sack. Sheard, the defensive end on Free’s side, crashed inside on the play and was picked up by Dockery. The blitzing linebacker, Robertson, then blew past Free on the inside to get to Romo. 

These sacks don’t include Robertson’s takedown of Romo in the first quarter after Jones failed to pick up the blitz, as Brown was called for illegal contact on the play.

In addition to Free’s troubles, Dockery and Parnell each had their share of issues in their first extended look of the year and Jones was shaky on a couple blitz pickups. The same crew of linemen will most likely face Washington on Thursday.

The Redskins aren’t one of the best teams in the league at reaching the quarterback, but then again, neither were the Browns.  Offensive line coach Bill Callahan might be the busiest man in Dallas with a short week and limited time to figure out what to do to ensure Romo won’t be gobbled up on Thanksgiving Day. 

Cleveland Browns defensive end Juqua Parker (95) pressures Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo - The Boys Are Back blog

KEYS TO THE LOSS: Plenty of problem spots, but it starts in the trenches

Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons - The Boys Are Back blog - Head to Head

ATLANTA – Yes, this team has all kinds of issues, and for the most part, they revolve around a lack of consistency. One week the receivers are making big plays, and the next they come up empty.

The running backs have been hit, but mostly miss this year, and the quarterback, yeah, we all know how up and down Tony Romo has been.

But aside from one game in Baltimore, the one thing that has been rather consistent has been this offensive line. And that’s not really a compliment. The offensive line has consistently struggled, and it was never more evident than Sunday night against the Falcons.

And it was across the board like always. Nate Livings and Ryan Cook had all sorts of problems getting their blocks, while Tyron Smith struggled on the outside. Mackenzy Bernadeau and Doug Free weren’t exactly dominant, but at least held their own.

But none of them were without problems.

Pick your play. Pick your key moment in the game and I’m sure the offensive line had something to do with it.

This team had its moments to make plays, but like always, kept shooting themselves in the foot – or better yet, missing a block on the outside, grabbing a lineman for holding or simply not having enough push up the middle.

Sure, this team misses DeMarco Murray as the running back. He’s the best one they’ve got and he’s been hurt. But the Cowboys have now used four different backs this year at various times and nothing really seems to be working.

Against the Falcons, the Cowboys’ lack of a consistent running game ended up hurting them in the end.

Last week, we thought the Cowboys lost the game in the first half when they got down, 23-0. Yet, they found a way to claw back and take the lead before eventually losing by five points in the final minutes.

This week, although the game was tied in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys arguably lost this game in the first quarter once again. Two chances to score inside the Falcons’ 20 and both times they settled for field goals.

Again, there were plenty of problems to go around, but I think it all starts up front with the line.

Too many times in this game the Cowboys had moments in which they simply needed to run the ball and pick up necessary yards, and they couldn’t convert. It happened early in the game on those scoring drives and then again before halftime with a third-and-1 at midfield.

But honestly, I can’t understand why this team continues to try to go big-on-big in short-yardage situations after constantly failing at it.

It happened several times against the Giants last week and it occurred yet again Sunday night in Atlanta.

When it’s third-and-1, why in the world do they continue to go with a jumbo package of three tight ends and a fullback? It basically draws all 22 players into the center of the field. There’s really no trickery or misdirection here.

It’s basically my guy vs. your guy and let’s see who wins. Well, how many times do we need to see it? The Cowboys had five total rushing touchdowns last year. They’ve got four already this year, but that’s not exactly a high number.

It all starts with the line up front and they just don’t get the push.

On the first drive of the game, the Cowboys get down to a first-and-goal from the 10. Now that’s always a tough place to punch it in, but on second-and-goal from the 6, they need more than a 1-yard run from Felix Jones. He was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, setting up a passing situation on third down that resulted in a field goal.

The biggest rushing miscue was right before the half when they had third-and-1 at midfield with a 6-3 lead. That’s the only time in the game they went with Phillip Tanner, and he was stopped at the line of scrimmage for no gain.

If you’re trying to be aggressive, it’s a spot on the field you at least consider going for it. You have a chance to go up 9-3, or even 13-3, and all you need is a yard. But other than letting Tony Romo go out and try to draw the defense offside, there was no real thought in going for it.

That’s how much the line is struggling. They don’t really trust them to get a yard.

And it’s not just in the running game. Romo didn’t have much time to throw all night. He was often rolling out, scrambling left and right and trying to make throws on the run.

Even in the final play from scrimmage, Romo couldn’t even get enough time to throw a Hail Mary to the end zone – instead having to dump it off to Felix Jones for a meaningless 39-yard pass in which he decided to get tackled and end the game. (Looking back on the coach’s film, Jones might have had something working if he had seen Jason Witten and Kevin Ogletree all alone on the right side of the field, although it would’ve taken quite a throw across the field from a running back).

But let’s not forget about the fact Romo didn’t even have time to set his feet and throw it to the end zone.

It’s not like the Falcons are a menacing, relentless defense that can’t be stopped. Yet the Cowboys simply couldn’t get them blocked Sunday night.

You can’t run it or throw it consistently when you can’t block them. And you can’t sustain much, especially when it gets tight in the red zone.

Add it all up and you can’t win. This team has all kinds of problem areas, but offensive line has been the No. 1 issue for this team, and it was on full display Sunday in Atlanta.

SEALING THE DEAL: Unbeaten Atlanta Falcons pull away from Dallas Cowboys in fourth quarter

SEALING THE DEAL - Unbeaten Atlanta Falcons pull away from Dallas Cowboys in fourth quarter - The Boys Are Back blog

ATLANTA — Unbeaten Atlanta scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Dallas Cowboys en route to a 19-13 win at the Georgia Dome Sunday night.

Atlanta moves to 8-0. Dallas falls to 3-5. The Cowboys play at Philadelphia next week.

“We didn’t do enough to win this game,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “We have to find a way to make enough plays to win. They are a very talented team. They won eight games for a reason."

Michael Turner scored on a 1-yard run and Matt Bryant kicked two field goals in the fourth quarter to break open a close game.

Turner finished with 102 yards on 20 carries, including a long of 43 yards. Matt Ryan threw for 342 yards, but no touchdowns. Roddy White had seven grabs for 118 yards and Julio Jones had five catches for 129 yards.

“They have a lot of weapons,” Garrett said. “They did a good job making moves in the open field and the yards after catch.”

Tony Romo passed for 321 yards and no interceptions. Miles Austin and Jason Witten each had seven catches and Kevin Ogletree had three for 96 yards and one touchdown.

The Cowboys defense, similar to the previous weeks, controlled the game, but wilted late with a couple of missed key tackles.

“I thought our defense did a good job early forcing them to kick field goals,” Garrett said.

Dallas got off to a good start when the defense forced a punt on Atlanta’s first possession.

Dwayne Harris returned the punt 33 yards to the Atlanta 31.

Seven plays later, Dan Bailey made a 23-yard field goal to make it 3-0 at the 10:46 mark.

Atlanta drove to the Cowboys’ 18, but on a third-and-2 play, Bruce Carter dropped Michael Turner for a 1-yard loss. On fourth down, Matt Bryant’s 37-yard field goal was wide right.

Dallas took over and struck quickly when Romo completed a 65-yard pass to Ogletree at the Falcons’ 18. Four plays later, Bailey made a 32-yard field goal for a 6-0 lead at the 3:42 mark.

Atlanta finally got on the board with a 45-yard field goal by Bryant on the second play of the second quarter to make it 6-3.

Dallas tried to answer by moving to the Falcons’ 37. On third-and-7, Ogletree dropped a pass from Romo. Then Bailey missed a 54-yard field goal wide left.

Taking over on its own 44, Atlanta drove to the Cowboys’ 36, but was forced to punt.

From their own 3, the Cowboys moved to midfield where they punted on fourth and inches.

Atlanta moved from its 12 to the Dallas 28 in 48 seconds where Bryant made a 47-yard field goal on the final play of the half to tie the game at 6-6.

“Obviously, we rather have touchdowns than field goals,” Garrett said.

Dallas punted away its first possession of the second half after working out from its 14 to the Atlanta 44.

Atlanta drove from its 13 to the Dallas 25 where Bryant barely missed a 43-yard field goal to the right at the 6:43 mark.

Dallas was on the move and faced a third-and-13 play at the Dallas 41, but a wide-open Miles Austin dropped the pass and the Cowboys punted.

Atlanta countered with the first touchdown of the game. The Falcons drove 81 yards in six plays with Michael Turner scoring on a 1-yard run on the second play of the fourth quarter to make it 13-6.

After another Dallas punt, Atlanta drove to the Cowboys’ 18, but a sack, short run and an incompletion forced Bryant’s 36-yard field goal to push the Falcons lead to 16-6 with 7:49 left in the game.

Now running out of time, Dallas went to its hurry-up, no-huddle offense and it paid off.

Dallas drove 78 yards in six plays for a touchdown. Romo threw 20 yards to Ogletree for the touchdown to make it 16-13 with 5:21 left in the game. Romo completed all six of his passes, including two to Jason Witten, who became the Cowboys’ all-time leading receiver on the drive, passing Michael Irvin.

With 5:21, Atlanta began its victory march by converting three third downs, including two on short passes to Jacquizz Rodgers, to put the game away. Bryant made a 32 yard field goal to make it 19-13 with 17 seconds left.

Four plays later, the game ended with a completion to Felix Jones at the Atlanta 21.

“We have to stay together and go back to work,” Garrett said.

RUNAWAY WIN TO REMAIN UNDEFEATED: Atlanta Falcons 19, Dallas Cowboys 13

    Stopping Themselves - Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons - The Boys Are Back blog

    ATLANTA — The season is now in jeopardy for the Dallas Cowboys.

    They came here trying to knock off the undefeated Atlanta Falcons but failed, 19-13, at the Georgia Dome on Sunday night. The Cowboys have now lost eight consecutive games on Sunday night and are 3-5 overall at the halfway point of the season. The Falcons improved to a perfect 8-0.

    What it means: The Cowboys are two games under .500 and most likely will have to win seven of the next eight to get into the playoffs. If the Cowboys win six of the next eight, they might need some help to reach the postseason.

    Scandrick with some gaffes: Slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick struggled in the fourth quarter against the Falcons. He missed a tackle on a 31-yard run play by Michael Turner on a third-and-6, then was flagged for defensive holding on a third-and-8 play against Roddy White. Both plays extended the last drive of the night for the Falcons. It’s these kinds of plays that Scandrick has to make, especially with the game on the line.

    Running back rotation: Felix Jones started, but Lance Dunbar (North Texas) got a majority of the snaps as the backup instead of Phillip Tanner. For the game, the Cowboys rushed for 65 yards on 18 carries. Jones had 39 yards on nine carries and Dunbar, on eight carries, picked up 26 yards. It’s clear the Cowboys miss starting running back DeMarco Murray, who was out with a sprained foot. His return for the Philadelphia Eagles game next week is a possibility.

    Witten makes Cowboys history: Coming into the game, tight end Jason Witten needed three catches to tie Michael Irvin as the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions. Witten finished with seven catches for 51 yards. But once again, he had no touchdowns.

    No Bryant in second half: Dez Bryant started despite a sore hip and finished with one catch for 15 yards, none in the second half. Quarterback Tony Romo didn’t target him in the second half. Instead, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree were the main targets, along with Witten.

    Ratliff plays hurt: Nose tackle Jay Ratliff hurt his left ankle late in the first half. While he didn’t start the second half, he played through the injury. There were no other major injuries for the Cowboys.

    Who’s next? The Cowboys finish their toughest stretch of the season (four of five on the road) with a trip to see the Eagles on Sunday.

BLUEPRINT FOR AN UPSET: Falcons’ weaknesses shown in three narrow wins

Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner, center, found some holes in the Baltimore defense and is ready to carry the load against the Giants on Sunday - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The Atlanta Falcons are the only undefeated team left in the NFL. But don’t think that makes them unbeatable. In fact, of their seven wins, only one has come against a team (Broncos 4-3) that currently has a winning record.

There was also a three-week stretch in which the Falcons narrowly won games against less than stellar teams.

In week four, the Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers 30-28 on a last second field goal.

In week five, the Falcons beat the Washington Redskins (who played the end of the game without Robert Griffin III) 24-17.

In week six, the Falcons beat the Oakland Raiders 23-20 at home.

A win is a win in the National Football League, so the point is not to fault the Falcons, but to look to these three games for a formula to beat Atlanta. And after taking a second look at all three games the verdict might not bode well for the Cowboys.

These three teams had success against the Falcons by effectively running the ball.

Dallas Cowboys Phillip Tanner - The Boys Are Back blog

The Cowboys’ offense looked great against the Giants in the second half as they all but abandoned the run game. Don’t expect that to be the most effective strategy against the Atlanta Flacons.

It’s no secret that the Falcons are a big-play, quick-strike offense. With Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, and Julio Jones, they have three players that average over 10 yards per carry and they have 13 touchdowns between them. Not to mention that Matt Ryan is playing at an elite level.

Teams’ only sustained success this year against the Falcons has been by running the ball and keeping Ryan and the offense off of the field. The Falcons have the 26th ranked rushing defense in the NFL.

In their loss to the Falcons, the Panthers rushed for 199 yards. Perhaps more importantly, they ran the ball 35 times versus just 25 passing plays. Ryan still played quite efficiently, but Carolina controlled the tempo for most of the game meaning the Falcons’ offense had more pressure to rely on the big plays of their offense (which they happened to get just enough of to win).

Ironically, it was a Panthers fumble in the last moments of the game that forced them to punt it to the Falcons who drove from their own 1-yard line to hit a game-winning field goal.

The Redskins managed to hang with the Falcons despite losing Robert Griffin III in the third quarter to a concussion.

They did so with a game plan that relied heavily on running back Alfred Morris who got 115 yards off of 18 carries. The predictability of Atlanta’s offense was apparent as Matt Ryan threw the ball 52 times in order for the Falcons to reach 24 points. Perhaps with Griffin playing the fourth quarter the Redskins could have continued the success of their ground attack and limited the opportunities for Ryan’s passing plays.

The next week the Oakland Raiders nearly beat the Falcons by dominating the time of possession. The Raiders ran for 149 yards compared to just 45 from the Falcons. The Falcons once again relied on big plays from their wide receivers, but this time it cost them as Ryan threw three interceptions almost costing the Falcons a win.

Like the Panthers and Redskins before them the Raiders played kept a very balanced blend of running and passing the ball. They threw the ball 33 times to go along with 32 running plays. Atlanta made just enough big plays to sneak out a 3-point victory.

What we can take from all of this is relatively obvious; the Falcons rely heavily on the expectation that their receiving threats (mainly Gonzalez, Jones and White) will make enough game-changing plays for them to win. Those players are talented enough for that to be a logical strategy. But no matter how talented your players are, such plays are rarely a given. You can’t just expect to convert every time you throw it deep to your Pro-Bowl receiver. But the Falcons take so many shots that they typically convert enough to win games.

Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo scrambles for a TD vs New York Giants - The Boys Are Back blog

These three teams had success against the Falcons by limiting the amount of shots they could take at big plays. In a sense they gambled that when it came down to crunch time they would be able to prevent the big passing plays. Even though they were wrong, they kept themselves in the game until the final moments.

I think that the Falcons have a clear weakness at running back and it has yet to be fully exposed. The Cowboys’ reluctance to run the ball has been well documented as they have only rushed the ball 24.1 times per game. But the Falcons are actually right behind them at 25.1 times per game.

The Cowboys and Falcons have shared many of the same weaknesses and their strengths lie in some of the same places. But considering how effective the Falcons have been this season compared to the Cowboys it might not be wise to go head to head with them on their strengths.

In other words, the Cowboys don’t want to try to get into a shoot out with the Falcons. Both teams have great weapons on offense, but the Falcons have been much more successful taking advantage of their weapons and winning games off of passing situations.

Compared to their 26th ranked rush defense, the Falcons have the 10th ranked passing defense. Their secondary is a big step up from the Giants’ secondary that the Cowboys passed all over in the second half of last Sunday.

Dallas Cowboys RB Lance Dunbar ran 15 times for 105 yards and a 58-yeard touchdown in 2012 Preseason game vs Miami - The Boys Are Back blog

There may be little reason to have faith in the performance of Felix Jones (who is not 100 percent), or Phillip Tanner or Lance Dunbar for that matter. But beating the Falcons will likely require a commitment to the running game.

Both teams will likely make big plays in the passing game. But Sunday’s game might come down to who can control the game in between those big plays. If the Cowboys fall behind by a touchdown early in the game, handing the ball off to Felix Jones and controlling the clock might not be the most popular decision, but that type of discipline and faith in the running game could be what it takes to take down a team like Atlanta.

INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE: DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant out; Felix Jones limited

The Dallas Cowboys had only two changes to their injury report from Wednesday. Receiver Dwayne Harris (neck) was added to the report as a limited participant, and Jason Hatcher (shin) had a full practice after being limited Wednesday.

But Dez Bryant (hip), DeMarco Murray (foot) and Dan Connor (neck) still are among those who did not practice. Murray is expected to miss a third consecutive game, and Bryant said he expects to play.

Running back Felix Jones again was limited with a bruised knee.

Center Phil Costa (ankle), safety Matt Johnson (hamstring), defensive lineman Sean Lissemore (ankle) and receiver Kevin Ogletree (hamstring) also missed Thursday’s practice. Ogletree said he is scheduled to undergo an MRI on his injured right hamstring later Thursday, but he is not concerned.

Costa still is wearing a walking boot.

.

NAME POSITION INJURY WED. THU. FRI. GAME STATUS
Bryant, Dez WR Hip DNP DNP
Connor, Dan LB Neck DNP DNP
Costa, Phil C Ankle DNP DNP
Harris, Dwayne WR Neck LP
Hatcher, Jason DL Shin DNP FP
Johnson, Matt S Hamstring DNP DNP
Jones, Felix RB Knee LP LP
Lissemore, Sean DE Ankle DNP DNP
Murray, DeMarco RB Foot DNP DNP
Ogletree, Kevin WR Hamstring DNP DNP

Editors Note: Keep up with the Dallas Cowboys (and upcoming opponents) injury and practice status right here, on The Boys Are Back. Click HERE or use find the “Injury Update” page at the top or right side of this blog.

INJURY AND PRACTICE UPDATE: Dallas Cowboys vs. Atlanta Falcons

IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys were without two of their top three wide receivers, a starting defensive end and their starting running back for Sunday’s game at Atlanta was limited with a knee injury.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant did not practice because of a sore hip but he is expected to be ready for Sunday’s game at Atlanta. Bryant was hurt as he came crashing down on the turf on a near game-winning touchdown catch Sunday against the New York Giants.

Kevin Ogletree, the team’s No. 3 receiver, did not practice because of a hamstring strain. He was at practice in pads during the open portion of the session to the media.

Defensive end Jason Hatcher did not practice because of a bruised shin. While he is expected to be OK for Sunday’s game, Marcus Spears worked with the starters on Wednesday.

Felix Jones was limited with a bruised knee. He was limited in two of three practices last week but was able to play a full game against the Giants.

Linebacker Dan Connor did not practice because of a stinger that is likely to keep him out of the Falcons’ game. The Cowboys would turn to Orie Lemon and Ernie Sims to replace Connor, who was already subbing for an injured Sean Lee.

Running back DeMarco Murray (foot), center Phil Costa (ankle), defensive end Sean Lissemore (ankle) and safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) did not practice, as expected.

RIVAL HEADLINE: Home loss to Giants leaves Cowboys dispirited and fans disgusted

Tony Romo got past Chase Blackburn to score - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON, Tex. — A dramatic finish would eventually unfold, but Dallas Cowboys fans wanted instant gratification Sunday. And after Tony Romo had thrown three interceptions and Dez Bryant had fumbled away a punt, a crowd announced at 94,067 also wanted its displeasure to be heard.

“I would have booed us, too,” Romo said. “We deserved it at that time.”

The Cowboys’ body language matched their sluggish start as they fell behind the Giants by 23 points early in the second quarter. Still, after the Cowboys nearly overcame that deficit, and six turnovers in all, the mood among them was that they had let the Giants escape with a 29-24 victory.

The Cowboys thought they had won with 10 seconds to play, when Romo’s heave into the end zone was hauled in by Bryant and officials signaled a touchdown. But replays showed that Bryant’s right hand landed out of bounds and the call was reversed, giving the Cowboys (3-4) a season split with the Giants (6-2) and dropping Dallas into a tie for second with the Philadelphia Eagles in the N.F.C. East.

The Giants also remained unbeaten at Cowboys Stadium, improving to 4-0 since it opened in 2009.

“It hurts for you to know you played your heart out,” Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr said. “We got off to a late start. We woke up late. To have the game end the way it ended and to get it taken away from you, it hurts.”

Dallas’s defense limited Eli Manning and the Giants, even with good field position, to five field goals and a rushing touchdown, and allowed only 293 yards. The Giants’ other score was provided by their own defense.

“The emotions were crazy,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “We really wanted this game. But as a unit, as a team, we didn’t do enough, we didn’t make enough plays. We didn’t go that extra mile to get the job done.”

Romo was 36 of 62 for 437 yards, ran for one touchdown and passed for another, but also threw four interceptions. Tight end Jason Witten caught 18 passes, a team record, but with a stunning comeback seemingly in reach, Dallas derailed itself with questionable play-calling.

The Cowboys reached the Giants’ 28-yard line with 1 minute 27 seconds to play, and on first down Romo connected with Witten for a 9-yard gain. Needing only 1 yard for another set of downs, and with all three of their timeouts remaining, Dallas called three straight pass plays, and the series ended with Romo scrambling backward before heaving a desperation pass that was intercepted by Stevie Brown.

“We had a couple of plays called,” Romo said. “It’s dictated off coverage. They’re going to have a free guy if we run it. So you could bang it up there, but at the same time you could be wasting a play. It is what it is.”

The Giants’ victory is certain to fuel more criticism on how much of a home-field advantage the Cowboys really enjoy at their $1.2 billion stadium. They are now 14-13 since the retractable-domed structure opened in 2009 (compared with 14-14 on the road during that time). Cowboys management even addressed the issue last week with a letter to season-ticket holders, exhorting fans to make more noise, along with a new video that was shown on third downs to “help give our Dallas Cowboys a true home-field advantage.”

Instead, the crowd turned hostile toward the home team after Jason Pierre-Paul picked off Romo’s swing pass to running back Felix Jones and gave the Giants a 23-0 lead early in the second quarter. Romo was booed after every incompletion, and fans let Coach Jason Garrett know what they thought of his play-calling. Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ owner, was also booed when he appeared on the video screen during a segment to promote breast cancer awareness.

“I’m the boo-ster,” Jones said. “The fans had the same feeling I did, frustrated and mad we had dug ourselves a big hole.”

He added: “I understand their frustration. I share their frustration.”

MILESTONES: Achieved during New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys game

Here are the historical notes compiled after todays game with the New York Giants:

The Dallas Cowboys had three receivers top 100 yards tonight (Jason Witten, 167; Miles Austin, 133; and Dez Bryant ,110) for just the second time in franchise history. The first was at San Francisco (11/10/63) as Frank Clarke (190), Lee Folkins (112) and Billy Howton (107) were the first Cowboys trio to accomplish the feat.

Dallas finished the game with 415 net passing yards – the sixth-most in a game in franchise history:

Single-Game Passing Yards (team history)

Yards Opp (Date)
455 MIN (11/26/98)
452 @Det (9/15/85)
440 PHI (10/9/66)
427 @SF (9/18/11)
419 @SF (11/10/63)
415 NYG (10/28/12)

Miles Austin finished second on the team with nine catches for 133 yards today. His 133 yards marked his third 100-yard outing of the season and the 14th of his career. His 133 yards today were the ninth-most in a game in his career:

Austin’s Single-Game Yardage Total

Yards Opp Date
250 @KC 10/11/09
171 ATL 10/25/09
166 TEN 10/10/10
146 @Was 9/12/10
145 OAK 11/26/09
143 @SF 9/18/11
142 CHI 9/19/10
139 @NO 12/19/09
133 NYG 10/28/12

Austin’s nine catches today upped his career total to 245 to pass Kelvin Martin (237) for 13th in franchise history.

Austin’s 133 yards today upped his career total to 3,855 to pass Doug Cosbie (3,728) for seventh in team history.

Dez Bryant finished third on the team in both receptions (five) and yards (110) today. His 110 yards marked a career-high, his second 100-yard game of the season and the third of his career.

Bryant upped his career receptions total to 149 to pass Don Perkins (146) for 29th in team history.

Bryant improved his career receiving yards total to 1,977 to pass Timmy Newsome (1,966) for 28th in franchise history.

Bryant had a career-long 55-yard catch today.

Lance Dunbar had a 44-yard kickoff return today for the longest kickoff return of the season to date.

Dwayne Harris tied his career-long punt return of 14 yards today.

Felix Jones rushed 13 times for 19 yards and touchdown today. He now has 507 career rushing attempts to become the 12th Dallas Cowboy with 500 rushes.

Jones’ rushing touchdown today was the 10th of his career to make him the 18th Dallas Cowboy with 10-or-more rushing scores.

Danny McCray picked off his second career pass today.

John Phillips notched his second career touchdown reception – the first was also against the N.Y. Giants (12/11/12).

Tony Romo finished today’s game 36-of-62 for 437 yards. His 62 attempts established a club record while his 437 passing yards were a single-game career-high and good for third in club history:

Single-Game Passing Yards (Team History)

Player Yards Opp (Date)
Don Meredith 460 @SF (11/10/63)
Troy Aikman 455 MIN (11/26/98)
Tony Romo 437 NYG (10/28/12)

Romo’s 437 yards was his second career 400-yard game (first was 406 vs. Tennessee, 10/10/10) and his 34th career outing with 300-or-more passing yards.

Romo also rushed for his fifth career touchdown today.

DeMarcus Ware’s sack today was his fifth straight game with at least a half sack – the fourth such streak in his career.

Ware has 13.5 career sacks against the Giants – the second-most against any team in the league (Philadelphia, 15.5). He also has 13.5 sacks of Eli Manning – more than any other quarterback he has sacked in the league.

Ware now has 107.0 career sacks to take sole possession of third place on Dallas’ all-time unofficial (pre-1982) sack list:

Player Sacks
Harvey Martin 114.0
Randy White 111.0
DeMarcus Ware 107.0

Jason Witten led the team with a club-record 18 catches for a team-best and career-high 167 yards. Witten now owns the top-three and is tied for fourth for receptions in a single-game in club history:

Dallas Cowboys Single-Game receptions

Player Rec Opp (Date)
Jason Witten 18 NYG (10/28/12)
Jason Witten 15 @Det (12/9/07)
Jason Witten 14 @NYG (12/6/09)
Lance Rentzel 13 WAS (11/19/67)
Jason Witten 13 CHI (10/1/12)
Dez Bryant 13 @Bal (10/14/12)

Witten’s 18 catches tied for the third-most in a game in NFL history (Brandon Marshall, 18, vs. San Diego, 9/15/08) and were the most by a tight end in NFL history.

Witten’s 167-yard performance tied for the 20th-best single-game total by a league tight end and was a club tight-end record.

Witten also extended his club tight end record of 100-yard outings to 16.

Witten upped his season catch total to 51 to give him his ninth career and ninth consecutive season with at least 40 catches. He is now tied with Jeremy Shockey for the third-most 40-plus catch seasons and the third-most consecutive 40-catch seasons among tight ends in NFL history.

40-Plus Catch Seasons by a Tight End

Player Total Consec Years
Tony Gonzalez 15 15 1998-12
Shannon Sharpe 11 7 1992-98, 00-03
Jeremy Shockey 9 9 2002-10
Jason Witten 9 9 2004-12
Frank Wycheck 8 8 1995-02
Antonio Gates 8 8 2004-11

Witten’s 51 catches thus far also marked his ninth career and ninth consecutive 50-catch season for the second-most by a tight end behind Tony Gonzalez (14 total and 14 consecutive) in NFL history.

Witten now has 747 career receptions and trails Michael Irvin by only three for tops in team history.

2012 GAMEDAY RESOURCES: Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants

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HEAD2HEAD: A look at how the Dallas Cowboys and NY Giants match up

It was not too long ago when the Cowboys went up to northern New Jersey and defeated the New York Giants 24-17. But a lot has changed since that Sept. 5 season opener. The Giants, not the Cowboys, now sit alone atop the NFC East standings. Dallas linebacker Sean Lee is done for the season after suffering ligament damage in his right big toe. And Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 131 yards in that first meeting with the Giants, is sidelined as he continues to recover from a sprained left foot. The Giants, in totality, are in much better shape than the Cowboys. Here is a look at how both teams match up:

When the Cowboys run

The Cowboys’ rushing attack remains in flux and at this point it’s difficult to project its performance. A week after gaining 227 yards on the ground against Baltimore, the Cowboys managed to collect 85 against Carolina. Of course, tailback DeMarco Murray didn’t play last Sunday and he won’t be available this week as he continues to recover from a sprained left foot. That is a big blow for the Cowboys. Against the Giants in the opener, Murray rushed for a season-high 131 yards – about five more than New York has yielded on average this season. Will Phillip Tanner or Felix Jones, who is nursing a bruised knee, pick up the slack in Murray’s absence?

Edge: Giants

When the Cowboys pass

Tony Romo’s best performance of the season came in the first game. Romo completed 76 percent of his pass attempts for 307 yards and three touchdowns, posting a 129.5 quarterback rating in the process. Since then, Romo has thrown three more interceptions than touchdown passes. But there is no reason to believe Romo can’t skewer the Giants’ flimsy secondary. New York is allowing 253.3 yards per game through the air, the 12-highest average in the NFL. The question is whether Romo, who has been only sacked once in the past two games, will be able to avoid the Giants’ staunch pass rush.

Edge: Cowboys

When the Giants run

The Giants’ running game has improved significantly since last season, when New York was ranked last in yards on the ground. Through seven games, the Giants have produced 116.3 rushing yards per game, the 12th-highest average in the NFL. They have done so while relying on Ahmad Bradshaw, Andre Brown and David Wilson. Yet the Cowboys were able to contain the Giants’ tailbacks in the opener, limiting New York to 82 rushing yards – 23 below the current average they’ve allowed. Of course, linebacker Sean Lee was a big part of that defensive effort. Now he’s out for the season with ligament damage in his right big toe. Will the Giants be able to exploit his absence?

Edge: Giants

When the Giants pass

The Giants make no secret about their intentions. They will pass the ball, relying on the arm of Eli Manning to power the offense. After Week 7, only three quarterbacks had thrown the ball more times than Manning had. And it’s easy to see why Manning is chucking the ball all over the field. After all he has plenty of targets. Headed by Victor Cruz, who has already made 50 catches, the Giants have six players who have gained more than 100 receiving yards. The Cowboys, who have the third-stingiest pass defense, will try to limit Manning and Co. for the second time this season.

Edge: Giants

Special teams

No player this season has attempted more field goals than the Giants’ Lawrence Tynes. He has converted 19 of 21 attempts this season and is part of a special teams unit that includes one of the league’s best directional punters, Steve Weatherford. Weatherford has allowed 5.8 yards per return – the exact average the Cowboys have produced when they have fielded punts. Those modest gains aren’t surprising. Although Dan Bailey has made 92.3 percent of his 13 field-goal attempts, Dallas’ special teams have performed poorly this season.

Edge: Giants

Intangibles

The Cowboys will have home-field advantage. That should mean something. But in this matchup with the Giants it doesn’t. The Giants have prevailed in all three meetings with their NFC East rivals at Cowboys Stadium. And at this point some wonder if New York feels more comfortable at Jerry World than Dallas does.

For that reason, the Giants have to be brimming with confidence as they invade North Texas seeking revenge for the loss the Cowboys handed them in the season opener.

Edge: Giants

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INSPIRATIONAL ROLE PLAYERS: Injury won’t prevent Cowboys’ Sean Lee from helping teammates

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING — In an example of the leadership and attitude the Dallas Cowboys will miss, linebacker Sean Lee talked to the media Thursday for the first time since it was revealed he must undergo season-ending toe surgery and was placed on injured reserve.

Lee, the team leader in tackles and the quarterback of the defense, is disappointed, but doesn’t feel sorry for himself.

He said he will be back better than ever next season.

In the interim, he will help his teammates as much as he can and believes they can still improve and have a successful season without him.

"It was frustrating because you want to be out there," Lee said.

"It’s one of those things. It’s part of the game. You have to be positive because if you’re negative you’re not going to get any better. My view is you’ve got to take the next step and that’s just working on getting better."

Lee said he initially didn’t think the injury was that serious, but that was before his foot swelled up the Monday after the Carolina game.

"I didn’t think it was going to be something that I’d be out for the rest of the season, especially with the way it happened, a fluke play where trying to make a tackle, their tight end lands on my foot as I’m driving, falls over the pile, bends my toe all the way back to my foot," Lee said.

Lee said there was no avoiding surgery. He will be sidelined three to four months after the surgery but should be healthy by February.

Lee won’t be on the field, but he plans to help Bruce Carter, who will take over the play-calling, and Dan Connor, who will replace him in the starting lineup.

Witten’s role

In the season opener, tight end Jason Witten served as an inspiration to his teammates. Sunday, he hopes to mean even more.

Witten played in the season opener against the New York Giants, a day after being cleared after sitting out with a lacerated spleen. Witten had two catches for 10 yards, but the Cowboys credited him for playing a big part in their 24-17 victory.

"It went down to the last minute," Witten said Thursday. "Obviously, looking back at this film, there is a lot of emotion with that. Probably not the healthiest I’ve ever been. It was a big win for our team to go on the road and beat them."

Witten lacerated his spleen Aug. 13 in the preseason opener on a hit by Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain. He returned to noncontact work in practice the week before the season opener, but he wasn’t cleared until seeing a specialist in New York the day before the game.

He played in his 140th consecutive game, though it was not his best game. In playing 53 of 68 plays, Witten had as many penalties (2) as catches and more penalty yards (15) than receiving yards.

He has 33 catches for 320 yards and a touchdown this season. Only Dez Bryant has better numbers, 36 catches for 378 yards and two touchdowns. Miles Austin has a team-leading four touchdowns.

Injury update

Running back Felix Jones returned to practice Thursday, though he was limited. Jones missed Wednesday’s practice with a bruised knee.

Jones is expected to start for the Cowboys on Sunday against the Giants. DeMarco Murray will miss his second consecutive game with a foot injury.

Jones was the only change to the practice report Thursday.

Linebacker DeMarcus Ware (illness) did not return to practice as he said he would. Center Phil Costa (ankle) also did not practice. He is wearing a protective boot and using crutches.

The Cowboys were without safety Matt Johnson (hamstring) and defensive lineman Sean Lissemore (ankle). Center Ryan Cook (hamstring) and linebacker Anthony Spencer (pectoral) were full participants.

Editors Note: Keep track of the Dallas Cowboys (and opponents) injury status HERE.

FRESH HORSES: Dallas Cowboys backups are ready to step up at running back

Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner, center, found some holes in the Baltimore defense and is ready to carry the load against the Giants on Sunday - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING — Because of injuries to others, Dallas Cowboys running back Phillip Tanner has taken plenty of practice snaps this week with the first-team offense.

The second-year back considers himself ready, if needed, to make his first NFL start Sunday against the New York Giants. But the former free agent draws the line at declaring himself comfortable in that role. Or any role in professional football.

"I’m never comfortable. That’s what kills you, when a guy gets comfortable and complacent," said Tanner, who had a career-high 13 carries in last week’s 19-14 victory over Carolina in relief of injured teammates DeMarco Murray (foot) and Felix Jones (knee). "I still come in every day as if I’m a free agent trying to make this team. I study film as if I’ve never seen it before. I take notes as if I’ve never read it before. Just so I can stay on my toes and won’t become complacent …So if I was good at 13 carries, I’ll try to be better at 14. And on and on and on."

That work ethic, coach Jason Garrett said, offers comfort to the Cowboys if Tanner — a third-teamer with 44 career carries for 137 yards — handles most of the workload Sunday against the Giants with Murray out and Jones on the mend. Jones practiced Thursday on a limited basis and, barring a setback, is expected to start Sunday.

But if Jones cannot play or cannot finish Sunday’s game, the spotlight shifts to Tanner. And Tanner’s primary backup would be rookie Lance Dunbar, a free-agent signee from North Texas and Haltom High School whose lone NFL carry covered 11 yards in the team’s 31-29 loss at Baltimore on Oct. 14.

Dunbar said the undrafted duo can handle a showdown with the reigning world champions, if necessary.

"I’m pretty confident in myself and I’m confident in him," Dunbar said. "If that happens, we’ll approach it like, ‘OK, we can do this. It’s just another game.’ We’d play our game and let it happen."

And their games differ greatly.

Tanner (5-foot-10, 217 pounds) offers a blend of power and speed that teammate Tyrone Crawford likened to Doug Martin, Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Crawford, a defensive tackle, played at Boise State with Martin and said Tanner "reminds me of Doug [because] they both run low, powerful and with good vision. He’s a smash mouth back with speed and it’s good to have him."

Dunbar (5-foot-8, 191 pounds) is more of a breakaway threat who is dangerous in the open field.

"His quickness is sick," fullback Lawrence Vickers said. "He’s great with the ball."

Regardless of who plays running back against the Giants, the Cowboys seek to match the ground-and-pound production they had in a 24-17 victory over the Giants on Sept. 5 (143 rushing yards, including 131 by Murray) and in their past two games. Dallas rushed for a season-high 227 yards against Baltimore and collected 85 against Carolina while controlling the clock for 33:37.

Against the Panthers, Tanner (13 carries, 30 yards) handled the ball seven times in the final 7:32 on drives that resulted in a go-ahead field goal with 3:28 remaining and another to pad the lead with 58 seconds to play. Tanner touched the ball nine times in the fourth quarter (eight carries, one catch), including a 5-yard trap play on third-and-9 that preceded the go-ahead field goal.

"He’s on our team for a reason," Garrett said, praising Tanner’s ability to handle a bigger role in an emergency situation. "At every turn [since signing with Dallas], he came in here and said, ‘You are not cutting me from this football team.’ When he’s gotten more opportunities in the preseason or the regular season, he’s shown us he can do a good job for us."

Tanner’s biggest opportunity could come Sunday if Jones’ knee ailment elevates Tanner into the starting lineup. It would be a moment the Dallas native, who played at Kimball High School, has envisioned since signing with his hometown NFL team on July 28, 2011.

"The most important thing I’ve learned is always be mentally prepared. Just take it to practice every day as if I’m going to be the starting running back," Tanner said. "That’s been my mind-set since the first day. Just to work hard and jell with the offensive line as if I’m the starting running back. So that when my time came, I would be ready."

Vickers said the Cowboys’ ground game can be productive Sunday even if it leans on a Tanner-Dunbar tandem against the Super Bowl champs.

"Absolutely," Vickers said. "Every back in that backfield is ready to go at all times. We’re preparing to make sure we can be a dominant group and hold up our end on the football field."

RANDY GALLOWAY: 20 seconds the Dallas Cowboys will never get back

Randy Galloway - Ft Worth Star Telegram - The Boys Are Back blog

BALTIMORE — Whatever you do, don’t do that. Whatever the plan, it couldn’t have been that, could it?

Excuse both the rant, and the confusion, but 20 seconds, 20 precious seconds, were wasted by the Dallas Cowboys at the end of Sunday’s game, leading to, if nothing else, a flashback to the horror show of clock mismanagement in Arizona last season.

That one was Jason Garrett’s worst 2011 head coaching moment, and the lack of accountability in the aftermath still hangs over him.

This one?

Maybe not so much, which still doesn’t excuse what appeared to be a blunder. In this one, however, at least quarterback Tony Romo and Garrett had the same story, the same explanation on why those 20 precious seconds were left blowing in the Maryland wind.

And no, it wasn’t the "plan," both said.

As in Arizona, however, the Cowboys ended up losing a winnable game, falling 31-29 to the Ravens, and the lament of "oh-so-close" is becoming more hollow the more the Cowboys blow these kind of heartaches.

Always dependable Dan Bailey was a tad wide left on a 51-yard field goal in the final seconds, allowing the Ravens to escape.

But with a little less distance to cover with his foot, or with a better placement of the ball — as in between the hash marks — would the outcome have been different for Bailey?

Count that as one of a hundred coulda, shoulda, woulda questions the Cowboys had to answer in the aftermath.

First of all, they finally got a call, maybe a gift call, in the final minutes from an officiating crew that made the replacement boys look more acceptable with every yellow hanky that fell.

After a pass interference flag, the Cowboys had the ball at the Ravens’ 34-yard line with 26 seconds left and one timeout.

That has to be two-play territory, right? Heck yes, it’s right.

The Cowboys ran one play. Then came the failed kick.

What happened after a quick Romo inside throw to Dez Bryant netted only a yard? At that point the clock was running with 20 seconds left when Dez was taken down.

"What we were trying to do there is what we talked about before the play," Garrett said. "Tony was trying to get them on the ball as quickly as possible [after the Dez catch] knowing we had one [timeout] in our pocket.

"It just took too long for everyone to get unpiled, so it got down into single digits, so we said take it down to four seconds and bang the timeout."

Obviously, it’s up to the Cowboys to get "unpiled." The unpiling was not quick enough. But was there also clock panic? It sure looked like it.

Romo: "With the time left, we didn’t think it was in our best interest to run another play. We had guys who needed to get off the pile and receivers who needed to come to the huddle. There just wasn’t enough time."

But was there enough to time to get a snap off, with Romo diving forward to the middle of the hash marks, then get the timeout? It appeared to be the case, but Bailey wanted no such excuse after the game.

"Being on the hash mark makes no difference," he said. "My job is to make the kick. If the hold is on the hash, I’ve got to still make the kick. If you’re always hoping for the middle of the field, you aren’t going to be kicking very long."

But while Bailey blew off the advantage of kicking from the middle of the field, his long attempt was extremely tricky due to the windy conditions. The wind was swirling inside the bowl, and although not necessarily against him, there was a crosswind involved. He had plenty of foot on the kick, just not between the uprights.

Garrett’s boss, Jerry Jones, backed the decision to let 20 seconds escape at the end of the game. "I wanted the kick right there rather than take the risk of attempting to get more yards," said the owner-GM.

But even as Jerry admitted, it was a "sickening" kind of loss.

The Cowboys’ offensive line totally manhandled a once proud Ravens’ defense, paving the way for 227 yards rushing, the most ever allowed by this defense. And much of the pounding was done by, yes, Felix Jones (he lives, he lives), because of a foot injury to DeMarco Murray that took him out for the second half.

Garrett went an unheard-of four deep at running back, with third stringer Phillip Tanner heavily involved, and even rookie Lance Dunbar, signed off the street last week, getting a carry that went for 11 yards.

The Cowboys game-planned the run after the Ravens had been plowed under by the Kansas City ground attack a week ago. It worked incredibly well, but not for a win.

And here we go again. Garrett has one dumb football team. The penalties were immense (13 for the Cowboys) and some were very questionable, but heavily penalized, dumb teams normally end up on the short end of the officiating.

Once again, a special teams coverage breakdown also factored into this loss, with Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones returning a kickoff untouched for 108 yards and a touchdown, tying an NFL record for the longest runback.

And even with Bryant repeatedly making tough, productive catches, he still muffed the biggest throw of the game. In the final minutes, after Romo made a gutty 120-yard drive (including 40 yards in penalties), the Cowboys had to go for two points and a tie game after the touchdown catch by Dez.

The 2-point throw was right there for Bryant. He flat missed it. The Cowboys, however, recovered the onside kick that led to the missed field goal. The Dez drop, however, low-lighted a frustrating end to a frustrating afternoon and a frustrating loss.

Also frustrating were the 20 seconds the Cowboys will never get back.

Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on Galloway & Co. on ESPN/103.3 FM.

PEAKS AND VALLEYS: Dallas Cowboys lose heartbreaker but find hope, running game

Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey (5) is consoled by tight end Jason Witten (82) after missing a 51 yard field goal that would have won the game - The Boys Are Back blog

BALTIMORE — When Dan Bailey lined up the potential game-winning kick at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones didn’t even bother to look.

He had watched his team overcome 13 penalties for 82 yards, including four penalties for 40 yards on an 18-play, 80-yard touchdown drive just minutes earlier to get them within two points.

A 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tony Romo to receiver Dez Bryant with 32 seconds to go was followed by a drop by Bryant on the 2-point conversion.

Yet, Jones was undeterred in his faith.

He had watched the Cowboys survive the loss of running back DeMarco Murray and defensive end Sean Lissemore to injuries, and battle at times without cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Mike Jenkins, Bryant and running back Felix Jones, who replaced Murray, because of injuries and dehydration. And yet they still battled back from an 11-point deficit.

He had watched them overcome a Romo interception for the sixth consecutive game and an NFL record-tying 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Jacoby Jones.

He watched Andre Holmes recover an onside kick with 30 seconds left in the game to set up the Bailey try.

Dallas Cowboys WR Andre Holmes goes after an onside kick by Dan Bailey. The Cowboys recovered - The Boys Are Back blog

Jones didn’t look because he had no doubt that Bailey would make it, sending the Cowboys to a seemingly season-changing victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

Never mind that it was from 51 yards out and in front of 71,384 fans who hadn’t witnessed a home defeat since 2010. And never mind that clock management issues with Romo and coach Jason Garrett prevented the Cowboys from running another play to possibly get a closer kick for Bailey.

Jones’ optimism proved futile when Bailey’s kick was wide left, giving the Ravens a 31-29 victory.

"We had the play with the kicker," Jones said. "We didn’t get it done. That’s putting more than maybe we should on him. But with the wind at our backs and him kicking, I had it counted. I had no doubt he would make it. I literally looked away because I thought he would make the kick."

It was Bailey’s first miss of the season. He was 8 for 8 before that try, including three earlier in the game from 42, 43 and 34 yards.

"It’s not a good feeling," said Bailey, who made four game-winning field goals for the Cowboys as a rookie last season. "Everybody worked their butts off, and it came down to a kick, and it didn’t go in. I don’t know what else to say but it hurts."

The pain of losing was felt throughout the locker room. It was their second consecutive loss as they fell to 2-3 and under .500 for the first time since last season.

The Cowboys left Baltimore (5-1) with something they didn’t have coming into the game: a sense of pride, a sense of self-respect and a feeling of optimism for the rest of the season.

They didn’t have any of that following the 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears before last week’s bye.

"I’m sick about losing this game," Jones said. "I feel good about this team. Even though we’re at 2-3, I feel good about the way we held up, stayed in there, fought. The way we did some things, executed, the way our offensive line played. There are some things I feel good about our future with, future being this year. I feel a lot more encouraged than I did after Chicago."

Dallas rushed for 227 yards, the most ever against the Ravens. Murray had 13 carries for 95 yards before going out. Felix Jones had 18 carries for 92 yards, including a 22 yard touchdown run.

Raven Jameel McClain tackles Dallas Cowboys RB Felix Jones - The Boys Are Back blog

The Cowboys dominated time of possession as than ran 79 plays, which tied for the most in team history, set Nov. 12, 1978 at Green Bay, while holding the ball for more than 40 minutes.

Coach Jason Garrett understands that fixing the penalties remains a huge issue. Dallas, however, had 13 penalties for third time this season, including a number of drive-killing pre-snap penalties that forced the Cowboys to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns on each of Bailey’s first three attempts.

Those plays and the record kickoff return for the touchdown proved to be the difference in the game — despite clock mismanagement after the onside kick.

The Cowboys were unable to get another play to get a little closer for Bailey. The play began with 26 seconds to go and was down to 16 seconds when Bryant caught a pass at the Baltimore 34. The Cowboys had a timeout, but they didn’t get to the line fast enough so Garrett let it run down to attempt the final missed kick with six seconds left.

"We had guys who were trying to get off the pile and receivers needing to come back to the huddle," said Romo, who completed 225 of 36 passes for 261 yards in the game with one touchdown and one interception. "There just wasn’t enough time."

But the Cowboys do have time to save their season and they are encouraged by their ability to fight back on Sunday — as evidenced by their converting a third-and-27 play, thanks to a litany of penalties, before Bryant’s score. A 17-yard pass to Bryant was followed by a 16-yarder to tight end Jason Witten to get the conversion.

"I thought we fought really well through a lot of different adversities," Garrett said. "We battled. We continued to battle. Our team grew a lot in this game. At the end of the day, we have to finish the game. We have to win the game. We can learn from that. But I love how our team battle and believe we can grow from this game."

Bryant was the last player to walk out the postgame locker room and was defiant in saying he and the Cowboys will be better going forward.

"I feel this game has made us 10 times stronger than what we were. I know it’s something we can build off of," said Bryant, who caught a career-high 13 passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns in addition to the dropped two-pointer.

Dez Bryant catches a touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens - The Boys Are Back blog

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