Tag Archives: Miles Austin

COWBOYS 2013-2014 ROSTER TALK: The wide receiver spot has plenty of question marks

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) runs in a touchdown as teammate John Phillips (89) looks on - The Boys Are Back blog

IRVING, Texas – The wide receiver position had plenty of question marks at the beginning of the year. After 16 regular season games, the group became a MASH unit. Had the Cowboys won in Washington Sunday night, it would’ve been very interesting to see how they would’ve played the game against Seattle this week.

Dez Bryant could barely walk on his own power for two days with a back injury. While the X-rays were negative showing no structural damage, it’s hard to think Bryant would’ve been able to be close to 100 percent, if he’d even play at all.

Miles Austin and Dwayne Harris both suffered high-ankle sprains. Austin couldn’t return in the game and Harris’ injury occurred late and he didn’t come back either. It’s unlikely they would’ve played. And Cole Beasley suffered a shoulder injury that would’ve probably had him limited, if not out.

It’s kind of ironic the player who has taking the most ‘beatings’ from fans and media this year, is the only receiver still standing at the end of the year. Kevin Ogletree started the season with two touchdown catches against the Giants and had another one in the finale against Washington.

Now in between, Ogletree’s production was hit or miss, and mainly miss. He ranked fourth on the team in both catches (32) and receiving yards (436) and third in touchdowns with four.

As an unrestricted free agent once again, Ogletree might not return in 2013. But then again, it could come down to the same thing as last year when the Cowboys didn’t have a lot of players with experience and Ogletree’s presence in the offseason was needed. And then in training camp, the group of Andre Holmes, Harris, Beasley, Danny Coale and anyone else, never did enough to unseat him.

But this time, with Harris and Beasley showing some promise, coupled with Coale’s return, Ogletree might not get re-signed at the start of free agency.

But let’s shift the focus back to the top.

Dez Bryant’s consistency has been in question since he arrived in 2010. And in the second half of the season, Bryant was arguably the team’s most consistent player. He caught a touchdown in seven straight games, which tied a franchise record, but was dominating in the second half of games. He finally reached the potential the Cowboys saw in him to draft him despite some of the off-season risks.

But injuries have been a concern for him all along. Toughness shouldn’t be questioned, considering he played through a fractured left index finger towards the end of the season, and still continued his touchdown streak, including a career game of 224 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints.

Where the Cowboys might have some decisions to make involves Austin, who should be healthy for the start of the offseason conditioning program despite the ankle injury. Overall, it was a quiet 66-catch, 943-yard season that included six touchdowns. His numbers were solid, considering he ranked third in catches and yards, but the “wow-factor” wasn’t always there.

And with a contract that averages $9 million per season, Austin needed more of the big plays, especially in big games. Austin had a catch in every game this season except the two Redskins games, where he suffered a hip injury and then ankle injury last week.

The Cowboys might look to restructure Austin’s deal, but outright releasing him, or even trading him, would take a hit on the salary cap – one they can’t really afford considering they may attempt to re-sign Anthony Spencer and/or Tony Romo this offseason.

Editors note: The Dallas Cowboys will bring in Anthony Armstrong (if still available), Donavon Kemp (IR), and Tim Benford (Practice squad), drafted receivers, and any number of free agents in the offseason. Based on the performance of Harris (and Beasley to a lesser degree) late in the season, it seems unlikely that Ogletree will be back in 2013-2014. Bringing in another veteran is not out of the question. Anybody you like in San Diego? That worked nicely in 2011.

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."

WIDEOUT WIPEOUT: Dallas Cowboys wide receiver injuries neutralizes exploitation of Redskins poor secondary

Washington Redskins punter Sav Rocca (6) grabs Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris (17) by the face mask 1 - The Boys Are Back blog

First, Miles Austin went out. Then, Dez Bryant. Cole Beasley was shaken up, too, and Dwayne Harris left the field on crutches.

If the Cowboys had to play a playoff game this weekend, they would be hurting at receiver.

"We were banged up going into this game, and at this point, I think we would have a tough time having some guys back next week," Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. "Some of the injuries don’t look very good."

Washington Redskins punter Sav Rocca (6) grabs Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris (17) by the face mask 2 - The Boys Are Back blog

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Washington Redskins punter Sav Rocca (6) grabs Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris (17) by the face mask 3 - The Boys Are Back blog

At crunch time, with the Cowboys down two scores, Romo was trying to spearhead a comeback without his starting receivers. Austin was standing on the sideline with a left ankle injury. Bryant was in the locker room with a lower back injury.

"I went down with the high-ankle sprain, so that wasn’t a good thing," Austin said. "Very difficult [to push off], very difficult. Frustrating."

Romo threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Ogletree with 5:50 left. Ogletree had been chastised by Romo after Romo’s first interception, which was intended for Ogletree. Then, Romo hit Dwayne Harris for a two-point conversion to draw Dallas to within 21-18.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris (17) is carted off the field vs Washington Redskins 2012 - The Boys Are Back blog

On the Cowboys’ final drive, they were without Harris, who had a left ankle injury on the Redskins’ last kickoff in the waning seconds.

"We got beat up pretty good at receiver," Ogletree said. "I know Miles went down and Dez left. As a group, we just try to pick each other up when we can. Missing those two guys is crucial, but we know it’s next-man-up system."

Tight end Jason Witten had seven catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. Bryant had four catches for 71 yards. Austin had no receptions (but several tackles!).

RELATED: THE SPINE IS FINE: Back spasms forced Dez Bryant out of the final push for the NFC East title

MILESTONES: Dallas Cowboys vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

With today’s overtime win, the Dallas Cowboys are 8-6, giving the club its 37th season with a finish of .500-or-better.

Today’s win also gave Dallas wins in three straight games for the first time this season.

Today was the second time this season Dallas played in an overtime game, and it was the club’s second overtime win of the season, 19th in franchise history. Dallas owns a 19-13 overtime record and a 6-4 home overtime record.

The win also gave Dallas a 3-0 record this December, guaranteeing the club a winning record in the month for the first time since 2001 when the club went 3-2.

Miles Austin caught a team-high seven passes for a team-best 79 yards. His receptions total today gave him 273 for his career to pass Billy Joe DuPree (267) for 12th in team history.

Dan Bailey was true on both of his field goal tries tonight – 50 and 21 yards. His 21-yarder came with 13:41 remaining in the overtime period, giving Dallas the 27-24 win. Today was Bailey’s third game-winning kick of the season and the seventh of his career. His seven tie Rafael Septien for the most in team history.

Dez Bryant caught four passes for 59 yards and a touchdown today. He upped his career receptions total to 187 to break a tie with Lance Rentzel (183) for 22nd in franchise history.

Bryant’s touchdown catch today was his sixth consecutive game with a touchdown reception, the longest streak in his career, tied for the fourth-longest streak and tied for the second-highest streak figure in franchise history.

For the season, Bryant has a career-high 10 touchdown receptions. This season is the 16th time a Cowboys pass catcher reached double-digit touchdown receptions and Bryant is the ninth different Dallas Cowboy to accomplish the feat.

Brandon Carr improved his club-high interception total to three with his interception in overtime. Along with his pick last week, it was the first time in his career he had interceptions in consecutive games.

Sean Lissemore notched his first sack of the season today to give him 3.5 for his career.

Brady Poppinga has his first start as a Dallas Cowboy today as the club opened with five linebackers.

Tony Romo finished today’s game completing 30-of-42 passes (71.4%) for 341 yards, two touchdowns and a rating of 111.3. He upped his season passing attempts total to 568 to establish a single-season club record:

Single-Season Pass Attempts

Player Attempts Season
Tony Romo 568 2012
Tony Romo 550 2009
Danny White 533 1983
Tony Romo 522 2011
Tony Romo 520 2007

Romo’s 30 completions today gave him 379 completions this season to extend his single-season club record:

Single-Season Pass Completions

Player Completions Season
Tony Romo 379 2012
Tony Romo 347 2009
Tony Romo 346 2011
Tony Romo 335 2007
Danny White 334 1983

Romo’s 341 yards today gave him 4,269 for the season, the fourth 4,000-yard season in his career, the fourth in team history and the second-most yards in a season in club books.

Single-Season Pass Yards

Player Yards Season
Tony Romo 4483 2009
Tony Romo 4269 2012
Tony Romo 4211 2007
Tony Romo 4184 2011
Danny White 3980 1983

Romo’s 341 yards today also gave him 25,103 for his career, making him the 64th quarterback in NFL history to reach 25,000 career passing yards.

In reaching 25,103 career passing yards today, Romo passed Tommy Kramer (24,777), Bob Griese (25,092) and Ken O’Brien (25,094) for 62nd in all-time passing yards.

In reaching the 300-yard mark with 341 yards today, Romo improved his club record of 300-yard games to 39. Dallas now holds a 25-14 (.641) record when Romo hits 300-plus yards.

In topping 300 yards again today, Romo has eight 300-yard games this season. His eight tie his club record established in 2009:

300-yard games (season)

Player Games Season
Tony Romo 8 2009
Tony Romo 8 2012
Tony Romo 7 2007
Tony Romo 6 2008
Tony Romo 5 2011

Romo’s two touchdown passes today gave him 54 career multiple-touchdown games to improve his club-high and allow him to place fifth in the NFL since becoming a starter in 2006:

Cowboys Career Multi-TD Games

Player Games
Tony Romo 54
Roger Staubach 48
Danny White 44
Troy Aikman 43
Don Meredith 41

NFL Multi-TD Games (since 2006)

Player Games
Drew Brees 72
Tom Brady* 63*
Philip Rivers 62
Peyton Manning 59
Tony Romo 54
Eli Manning 53
* indicates game in progress  

In completing 30-of-42 passes, Romo completed 71.4% of his passes – his 31st career game with a completion percentage of 70.0-or-more. Troy Aikman has the club high with 39. His 31 are fifth in the NFL since becoming a starter in 2006:

Total 70.0% Games (since 2006)

Player Games
Drew Brees 44
Peyton Manning 43
Philip Rivers 37
Matt Schaub 33
Tony Romo 31

Romo’s 71.4 completion percentage today gave him eight games this season with a completion percentage at or above 70.0, second in a season in franchise history. Aikman has the club-high with eight in 1993.

Romo had a passer rating of 111.3 today. It was his 48th career game with a rating above 100.0 to improve a club record and rank fourth in the NFL since 2006:

Career 100.0 Rating Games (Cowboys)

Player Games
Tony Romo 48
Troy Aikman 44
Roger Staubach 37
Danny White 33
Craig Morton 24

100.0 Rating Games Since 2006

Player Games
Tom Brady* 54*
Drew Brees 54
Philip Rivers 50
Tony Romo 48
Aaron Rodgers 46
Peyton Manning 44
* indicates game in progress  

In leading the Cowboys to an overtime win while trailing in the fourth quarter, today was Romo’s fifth come-from-behind win of the season and the 18th of his career – improving his franchise-high. Romo’s five this season are also a franchise-high. Tied for second with four each are: Roger Staubach (1979), Troy Aikman (1990), Drew Bledsoe (2005) and Romo (2011).

Marcus Spears had his first sack of the season today to give him 10.0 for his career.

Anthony Spencer had 1.5 sacks today to give him 10.0 sacks for the season to improve his single-season career-best. Along with DeMarcus Ware’s 11.5, this season is the first time since 2007 the Cowboys had two defenders top 10.0-or-more sacks – DeMarcus Ware (14.0) and Greg Ellis (12.5). This season is the fifth time in franchise history Dallas accomplished the feat – 1983 (Randy White and Anthony Dickerson), 1984 (Randy White and Jim Jeffcoat), 1985 (Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Jim Jeffcoat and Randy White) and 2007 (Ware and Ellis).

DeMarcus Ware’s half sack gave him 111.0 for his career and moved him into a tie with Randy White for second on the Cowboys all-time (unofficial) sack chart. Harvey Martin is at the top with 114.0

Jason Witten finished today’s game with five catches for 43 yards. For the season, Witten has 97 catches – the most in a season in his career, second-most in a season by a Dallas Cowboy and the fifth-most in a season by an NFL tight end.

Single-Season Receptions (Dallas Cowboys)

Player Receptions Season
Michael Irvin 111 1995
Jason Witten 97 2012
Jason Witten 96 2007
Jason Witten 94 2009
Jason Witten 94 2010

Single-Season Receptions (NFL TEs)

Player Receptions Season
Tony Gonzalez 102 2004
Dallas Clark 100 2009
Tony Gonzalez 99 2007
Jimmy Graham 99 2011
Jason Witten 97 2012
Ben Coates 96 1994
Tony Gonzalez 96 2008
Jason Witten 96 2007

Witten’s 43 receiving yards today upped his career total to 8,832 and allowed him to pass Terance Mathis (8,809) and Terry Glenn (8,823) for 57th on the NFL’s all-time receiving yards chart.

OVERTIME THRILLER IN DALLAS: Cowboys D comes up big; Steelers denied another win in Cowboys Stadium

Dallas Cowboys Stadium 2012 sunset - The Boys Are Back blog

The Steelers came into this game with the top-ranked defense in the NFL. The Cowboys? Well, they had six of their original starters out of the lineup, plus their nickel cornerback, then lost yet another linebacker in the early stages of the game.

But as the old saying goes, the games aren’t played on paper. Instead, it was the Dallas defense that came up big, leading the team to a thrilling 27-24 overtime victory in front of 95,595 raucous fans.

Despite the glaring differences between their defensive units, Dallas’ patchwork side held their own throughout the contest, and when they needed it most, came up with three big sacks late in the fourth quarter. That was followed by a game-changing interception from Brandon Carr in the extra frame, which set up the winning field goal.

It was by no means easy. Twice the Steelers took the lead and three times the game was tied. But Dallas kept battling back.

Pittsburgh put up 388 total yards of offense and did not have a single penalty. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 339 yards on 24-of-40 passing with two touchdowns. His primary target was tight end Heath Miller, who totaled 92 yards on 7 catches, while wide receiver Mike Wallace had four catches for 95 yards.

But on the other side of the ball, the Cowboys were ready for the the mighty Steelers defense, racking up 415 total yards. Tony Romo was again outstanding, throwing for 341 yards on 30-of-42 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He connected with nine different players, Miles Austin leading the way with seven catches for 79 yards while Dez Bryant and Jason Witten did what they do best, each scoring a touchdown.

Even DeMarco Murray got into the action, rushing for 81 yards on 14 carries with a score. By comparison, the Steelers only ran for 69 yards as a team.

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THREE-WAY TIE–THREE WIN STREAK: Dallas Cowboys 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 24

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) adjusts his helmet, revealing his broken left hand - The Boys Are Back blog

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Cowboys extended their season-saving winning streak to three games with a dramatic, 27-24, victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime on Sunday.

The Cowboys season continued their playoff hopes when Brandon Carr intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass and returned it 36 yards to set up the game-winning kick, of 21 yards by Dan Bailey.

When it was over, Miles Austin was pushing his coach, Jason Garrett and Jason Hatcher was hugging him. Emotions are high for the Cowboys with two games remaining in the regular season.

What it means?: The Cowboys are in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East. However, the Cowboys own the tie-breaker over the New York Giants because they have a better division record. Washington is in first place because it owns the tie-breaker over the Cowboys thanks to their Thanksgiving Day victory.

Dez Bryant and the broken finger: Dez Bryant played with a broken left index finger. It was taped up and the tip of the finger was exposed. The Steelers played him tough with double coverage on some passing downs, even dropping a linebacker underneath his routes. Bryant finished with four catches for 55 yards.

The decision: Dwayne Harris caught a four yard pass at the 2:00 mark and after a measurement, coach Jason Garrett elected to punt from his own 21. It would have been a gutsy call late in the game, but it seems as if Garrett was trusting his defense to get him the ball and he didn’t want to put the defense at risk with defending the Steelers deep in their own territory. It ended up not costing the Cowboys anything because the Steelers punted. Garrett had another decision late in regulation, setting up for a 61-yard field goal for Bailey, but after a timeout, he elected to punt the ball eventually forcing overtime.

Cowboys honor victims and a teammate: The Cowboys held a moment of silence for deceased linebacker Jerry Brown and for the victims of Friday’s school shooting in Newton, Conn. The Cowboys had Brown’s jersey on their bench and a No. 53 decal on the back of their helmet. Nose tackle Josh Brent, who was charged with intoxication manslaughter, attended the game.

Who’s next?: If you thought it was loud with Steelers fans at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday, wait until you hear the New Orleans Saints fans who visit here next week. The Saints beat Tampa Bay, 41-0, on Sunday.

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.

BACK IN THE SADDLE: Tony Romo makes history, Dallas Cowboys keep playoffs hope alive

Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant scored twice Sunday night vs Eagles - The Boys Are Back blog

      Tony Romo knows what matters the most when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys. So while it’s nice to break Troy Aikman’s franchise record for career touchdown passes, he’s focused on getting his team to the playoffs.

      Romo threw three second-half touchdown passes to answer a strong game by Philadelphia’s rookie duo of Bryce Brown and Nick Foles, and the Cowboys sent the Eagles to their eighth straight loss with a 38-33 victory Sunday night.

      The first two scoring tosses from Romo erased seven-point deficits, including a 23-yarder to Dez Bryant that was vintage Romo and broke Aikman’s career mark of 165 TD passes. Romo scrambled to his right and threw back across the field to Bryant, who weaved through the Philadelphia defense to tie it at 17 in the third quarter.

      Romo tied it again at 24 on a throw to Miles Austin, and had one more answer after Brown and Foles led the Eagles to a go-ahead field goal. He threw deep to Bryant for 35 yards on third down, and Bryant found his way into the end zone again by taking a screen pass 6 yards just inside the pylon for a 31-27 lead with 5:40 remaining in the game.

      ”It’s about winning games,” said Romo, who was 10 of 10 in the second half and completed his last 12 passes. ”We desperately had to have this win tonight, and our team fought like heck to get a win.”

      The Eagles’ slide continued despite 169 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Brown a week after he set a team rookie record with 178 yards on the ground.

      After Romo’s go-ahead touchdown pass, Dallas went up by 11 when Morris Claiborne returned a fumble by Brown 50 yards for a touchdown.

      Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles  at Cowboys Stadium 2012-2013 - The Boys Are Back blog

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          PLAYBOOK: How Cole Beasley could change the Dallas Cowboys offense

          Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Cole Beasley (11) dives for yardage after a catch - The Boys Are Back blog

          Miles Austin is a dynamic wide out whose versatility hasn’t been properly recognized over the past few seasons. Even this year, over two-thirds of Austin’s pass snaps have come in the slot. At 6’2’’, 219 pounds, Austin doesn’t have the prototypical build of a slot receiver, but he’s been able to succeed in the middle of the field due to his exceptional combination of size and quickness.

          On Thanksgiving, however, a new candidate emerged as the Cowboys’ slot receiver of the future: rookie Cole Beasley. With Austin down, Beasley was targeted 13 times. The rookie made some mistakes; he dropped a pass and appeared to run a poor route on Tony Romo’s second interception. But Beasley also displayed a unique skill set that suggests he could be a long-term solution for the Cowboys in the slot.

          Most importantly, Beasley’s emergence has prompted Jason Garrett to, at least temporarily, call different sorts of underneath routes. Specifically, there were more option and crossing routes from the Cowboys on Thursday—something we haven’t seen much over the past few seasons and from which the offense could undoubtedly benefit in the future.

          BREAKING IT DOWN …

          On a 3rd and 5 early in the second quarter, the Cowboys lined up in Gun Tight End Trips Left with “11” personnel, i.e. three receivers. Beasley was aligned to the field on the Trips side of the formation, about five yards outside of Jason Witten.

          Cole Beasley 1 - The Boys Are Back blog

          On the snap of the ball, Witten ran a simple hitch route to just about three yards—an uncommon route length for the tight end on third down. We’ve all seen Kevin Ogletree and other receivers run their routes a bit short of the sticks on third down, but that doesn’t typically happen with the veteran tight end.

          Cole Beasley 2 - The Boys Are Back blog

          The length of Witten’s route suggests it was primarily to allow Beasley to get open on his route. The rookie ran a crossing route right underneath of Witten, giving him the separation he needed to make a big first down grab. Romo’s throw was a bit off the mark, but Beasley hauled it in with one hand to move the chains.

          Cole Beasley 3 - The Boys Are Back blog

          The combination routes we saw from the Cowboys after they got down against the Redskins are something that will probably stay. If Beasley can continue to grow, he should be able to provide the Cowboys with a tremendous presence on third downs while also allowing Dallas to keep Austin on the outside. And if his skill set encourages Garrett to design more combination routes that allow receivers to work off of one another, it will be an added bonus.

          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.

          ONE YARD SHORT: Dez Bryant a step away from first down, but he makes up for it later

          Dez Bryant didn’t know exactly where he was when he stepped out of bounds, 1 yard short of the first down in the second quarter. He was trying to do the right thing by following his coaches’ advice to take what he can get and then get down or get out of bounds instead of risking a fumble fighting for an extra yard or 2 against multiple defenders trying to punch out the ball.

          "Oh, man, I saw where we was at and I was like, ‘Damn!’" Bryant said after the game. "I didn’t mean to do that. It’s not like me to run out of bounds. I seen like four or five guys coming and stepped out. I didn’t see the first down marker. That’s my bad. I should have known where we was at on the field."

          The crowd let him know it was not a smart play, booing him loudly.

          "I heard the boos from the crowd. That hurt my heart," Bryant said, putting his hand over his heart.

          Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant scores TD vs Cleveland Browns - The Boys Are Back blog

          The Cowboys picked up the first down on the next play — a third-and-one — as Felix Jones got the needed yard (barely). Bryant made it up, too, with 12 catches for a career-high 145 yards and a touchdown.

          "I just feel like being focused, just staying focused, not losing composure," Bryant said. "Paying attention to Tony [Romo], paying attention to Miles [Austin], paying attention to everybody. Not only me, but everybody being focused and keeping our head down and playing good football, ain’t no telling where we can go."

          Bryant had one play where he broke free and appeared ready to race for a touchdown, but the play had been blown dead. His forward progress had been stopped, according to officials.

          "That was too quick," Bryant said of the whistle. "I felt like I broke those tackles, and he blew the whistle too quick. Somebody told me that [the official] fell. Did the guy fall? That’s probably why he blew the whistle. That’s not fair to me, but hey …"

          SALVATION ARMY: Dallas Cowboys take break from field to help out in kitchen

          Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign at Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day - The Boys Are Back blog

          DALLAS — Jason Witten shows up at the Salvation Army every year to serve an early Thanksgiving lunch. On Tuesday, he brought his buddy with him.

          Quarterback Tony Romo was one of the 12 Cowboys veterans who worked the food line and brought plates out to the clients at the Salvation Army’s Collins Social Services Center in Dallas. It’s part of the kickoff to the team’s annual Thanksgiving holiday drive for the charity.

          In Fort Worth, another group of players and cheerleaders served a Thanksgiving lunch to Salvation Army residents there.

          Romo doesn’t make a lot of public appearances, so it was a treat for the lunchtime crowd and the hosts. The Salvation Army staffer who introduced him — a Cowboys fan since she was 10 years old despite growing up in Washington, D.C. — couldn’t resist calling him over and saying, to cheers, "This is the first time I’ve met Tony Romo. I’m standing by Tony Romo!"

          Witten got a grin out of it.

          "He does a good job of seeing those fans, and obviously, they have words of encouragement or, sometimes, advice — for all of us, and especially the quarterback," Witten said, drawing a laugh.

          Parenthood, said Witten, has affected Romo’s outlook.

          "Being a father himself and a family guy, it does provide a perspective," he said. "It’s unbelievable how good his motives are. He just wants to spend time with them and stay away from all the other stuff. That’s what it’s all about, to come here and get the impact, more than anything else."

          Romo stayed in the kitchen for the most part, but he took charge there, too. He put Miles Austin on dressing, put himself on rolls.

          "He was on the rolls, but you know what? It was a little hot back there," Witten said. "He did provide some entertainment for the staff. Those are stories those people will be able to tell for a long time, getting to work with Tony in the back. He didn’t quite have it mastered like they did."

          Other players who participated included DeMarcus Ware, Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray, Phillip Tanner, Kyle Orton, Robert Calloway, Derrick Dockery, Eric Frampton, Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr.

          Murray, who has missed four games with a sprained foot, said it lifted his spirits to do his part.

          "Getting away from everything that deals with football, enjoying life, giving back, being around people who really don’t see football, it was nice to come out here and give," he said.

          Sherby Nixon shows rookie Cowboys linebacker Kyle Wilber, left, and running back Lance Dunbar how to prepare a thanksgiving lunch plate - The Boys Are Back blog

          Sherby Nixon shows rookie Cowboys linebacker Kyle Wilber, left, and running back Lance Dunbar how to prepare a thanksgiving lunch plate.

          Related: Dallas Cowboys get, give good vibes at annual Salvation Army meal

          DALLAS – The Cowboys have a couple of Thanksgiving traditions: Playing football on Turkey Day and serving meals to the less fortunate earlier in the month.

          Tuesday was the day for the latter tradition.

          The Cowboys manned two Salvation Army locations, with the rookies serving meals in Fort Worth and a group of veterans serving meals in Dallas.

          “Every time you do it, you’re in the middle of the season and the grind and coming here provides a little perspective,” said Jason Witten, who has been part of the event in each of his 10 seasons. “You’re on somewhat of a platform. You have to say, hey, I’m going to give back to some of the people that look up to you. That’s what being a role model is all about, providing perspective and hopefully encourage them in some way.”

          It’s not just about serving meals. The Cowboys sign autographs and interact with people who generally need some good vibes.

          “It’s good just to come out here and just give back,” running back DeMarco Murray said. “You always have a soft place in your heart for them. Growing up, you always tried to pray for them and do the right things by them, no matter if it’s bringing them over for a meal, just saying hi or talking to them. Doing anything you can possibly do to make them feel better is what counts.”

          Added outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware: “You’ve got to count your blessings. Being a role model for the Dallas Cowboys and having some positivity come into the Salvation Army always feels good.”

          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.

          FLASHBACK: Dallas Cowboys hope to draw on history Sunday

          IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys will play the only undefeated team left in the NFL on Sunday. They will play in a dome on Sunday. They will pay against an NFC South team.

          What is this 2009 again?

          The Cowboys hope so.

          Dallas Cowboys vs New Orleans Saints - The Boys Are Back blog - QB Sack and Fumble

          In 2009, the Cowboys beat 13-0 New Orleans inside the Superdome, 24-17.

          History Points to a Dallas Cowboys win - The Boys Are Back blog

          "Going down to New Orleans I think will have a similar type feel in that you know you’re going against a great opponent that does a lot of things well and creates a lot of problems,” quarterback Tony Romo said. “You can draw on the fact of what you did as a team and individually to beat that opponent that day. What were some of the things that you were successful with, whether that was your approach, whether it was a certain fundamental thought that gave you a chance to do something … I don’t want to give away too much, but that allowed you have a chance to be a little better."

          A fast start is a must.

          “I can remember playing against New Orleans down there I think when they were undefeated and I think we scored pretty early in that game and that helped out a lot so …,” Romo said.

          The Cowboys scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the game for a 14-0 lead with 5:15 left in the opening quarter. Romo hit Miles Austin for a 49-yard score to open the game and Marion Barber followed it with a 3-yard TD run as the Cowboys went on their way to a 24-17 win against the Saints.

          Dallas Cowboys vs Atlanta Falcons - The Boys Are Back blog - QB Sack and Fumble

          That win propelled the Cowboys to the playoffs. At 3-4, the Cowboys could use a similar boost with a win Sunday at Atlanta.

          “I just think we know we have to go up there and play our best game,” Romo said, “and do the little things right that give you a chance to win football games.”

          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.

          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.

          NFC EAST RUNDOWN: Week #8 brings New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys rematch

          New-York-Giants-vs-Dallas-Cowboys rematch - The Boys Are Back blog

          Week 7 of the NFL season has concluded, having featured Eli Manning outdueling Robert Griffin III and the Cowboys crawling back to .500. Now there is a clear front-runner in the division with the other three teams battling it out for second.

          Below is a quick recap of the division records:

          New York Giants 5-2

          Philadelphia Eagles 3-3

          Dallas Cowboys 3-3

          Washington Redskins 3-4

          New York Giants:

          Every so often there will be certain games where you make your fair share of mistakes and your opponent is able to execute a number of big plays against you. The great teams react, respond and find a way to still get the victory. Over the past few years, the Giants have perfected the art of winning these types of games and last Sunday against the Redskins was no different.

          The Giants didn’t particularly play their best football against Washington. Eli Manning threw two costly interceptions, they only rushed for 64 yards and the New York defense surrendered nearly 500 total yards. But when it came down to having to make a play or leaving with a loss, the Giants were able to make a play.

          An interception by Stevie Brown in the third quarter led to an Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown to break a tie at 13. Then later in the fourth, after Robert Griffin III scored what seemed to be a game-winning touchdown with 1:27 left, Manning was able to pull off a miracle, a 77-yard touchdown pass to Victor Cruz with 19 seconds giving the Giants the win.

          Pointing out weaknesses on this Giant team is not the most difficult thing to do this season. However, finding a way to beat them has been a whole other story.

          Philadelphia Eagles

          The Eagles had a bye last weekend. At 3-3, they are entering a crucial part of their season. Will the turnover prone, let-anybody-in-the-game team show up? Or will the dangerous big-play offense accompany a relatively efficient defense?

          The Eagles will play their first game under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Juan Castillo having been fired despite a defense that was outplaying the offense.

          Dallas Cowboys:

          Did the Cowboys play their best game last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers? Probably not, but they came away with what they desperately needed, a victory. Without starting running back DeMarco Murray, Dallas’ rushing numbers were nothing special, but the commitment to the ground game seemed to take pressure off of the aerial attack.

          Tony Romo was able to avoid any costly turnovers, but the passing game still did not reach the efficiency level that many people have expected. Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree both dropped catchable passes at critical moments. Miles Austin, on the other hand, had a much bigger impact on the game. Austin had three big plays, one of which ended with him fumbling the ball away, and another with him in the end zone.

          But the Cowboys defense deserves a great deal of credit for the win. While they did give up almost 300 total yards to Cam Newton, they managed to hold the Panthers’ three talented running backs to a combined 48 yards. The defense also made key stops when they needed them most, which included Morris Claiborne’s first career interception, the first for the Dallas secondary this season.

          The Cowboys will likely need a better all-around effort to beat the New York Giants next week. But in a close game at Carolina, Dallas executed on a more consistent basis than its opponent, and it’s been quite a few weeks since that could be said.

          Washington Redskins:

          Last Sunday, the Redskins did what they have done all season: proved that they have a lot of fight in them. On paper, they may not be as talented as the New York Giants, but they hung in with the Super Bowl champions until the final seconds.

          RGIII had a couple of rare mistakes as the Giants’ pass-rush bothered him all game. He threw one critical interception and Jason Pierre-Paul stripped the ball from him for a lost fumble. But the rookie quarterback inspired hope when he brushed off the turnovers and played his best football at the end of the game, leading the Redskins down the field with less than two minutes to play. Griffin might have had his play of the season thus far when he kept a play alive by scrambling in the pocket for almost 12 seconds, avoiding tacklers to find a man down the field for a first down.

          Washington’s other rookie, Alfred Morris, once again ran for over 100 yards. The Redskins may not win the division, but they are certainly a threat to jeopardize other teams’ chances of taking the title every time they face them.

          Injuries:

          Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys received a few troubling injuries during their game against the Panthers. Starting center Phil Costa went down with a severe sprained ankle. The injury looked much worse live, but it will still keep him out for at least next week’s game against the Giants and perhaps longer. Sean Lee has ligament damage to his toe and is likely out for the season. DeMarco Murray is still recovering from a sprained foot. The timetable for his return is unknown, but he will probably sit out against the Giants.

          New York Giants: The Giants didn’t sustain any major injuries in their victory over the Washington Redskins. Prior to the game, they placed running back Da’Rel Scott on the short-term injury reserve, which will keep him out at least six weeks. Safety Kenny Phillips and defensive tackle Rocky Bernard are both considered to be questionable against the Cowboys this week.

          Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles had a bye last week and were fortunate enough to enter the break with all 22 starters healthy. Perhaps we will see a rejuvenated Philadelphia team coming out of their week off.  

          Washington Redskins: The team that has suffered the most from injuries in the NFC East took yet another brutal hit. Productive tight end Fred Davis tore his Achilles, ending his season. The Redskins brought back Chris Cooley to help replace him. Veteran linebacker London Fletcher also strained his hamstring and is questionable for next Sunday’s game against the Steelers. Wide Receiver Pierre Garcon still seems to be on the mend and is not expected to return next week. 

          Miscellaneous:

          • In terms of individual rushing yards, the Washington Redskins have the top two runners in the NFC East and they are both rookies. Alfred Morris is second in the league in rushing yards while Robert Griffin ranks first among quarterbacks in the NFL and is still ahead of every other NFC East running back outside of Morris. 

          • In terms of yards per game, it is hard to argue against the NFC East being the best offensive division in football. All four teams are in the top 10 in total offense, with New York at No. 2, Washington at No. 5, Philadelphia at No. 7 and Dallas at No. 10.

          • This week the New York Giants, who have the No. 3 ranked passing offense in football, will face off with the Dallas Cowboys, who have the No. 3 ranked passing defense in football.

          Week 8 Matchups:

          Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles

          Sunday, Oct. 28, Noon CT (FOX)

          Washington Redskins @ Pittsburgh Steelers

          Sunday, Oct. 28, 12:00 Noon CT (FOX)

          New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys

          Sunday, Oct. 28, 3:25 CT (FOX)

          Editors Note: Check out the NFL 2012-2013 Schedule HERE

          GAMEBALLS: Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers

          Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo vs Carolina Panthers - The Boys Are Back blog

          Offense: Tony Romo

          The numbers for Romo were fine, but I want to focus on his ability to take the different personnel groups that head coach Jason Garrett was using and making it all work.

          Romo knew he was going to get some soft coverage on the outside, and with Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble out of the game, there were going to be some opportunities for him to make throws. In the first half, he was able to find tight end Jason Witten for some key catches, before turning around in the second half, and getting wideout Miles Austin going again after he had the fumble that led to Carolina’s points late in the second quarter.

          What I think Romo has done a much better job of in his career is when one of his receivers makes a mistake, he gets that player going right back into the game. It’s a really nice trait to have.

          Defense: Anthony Spencer

          Anthony Spencer vs Carolina Panthers QB Fig Newton - The Boys Are Back blog

          From my view both in the press box seat and on field level, it was a really nice game for Anthony Spencer. Without much work the last several weeks, he was able to shine when his teammates needed him the most. There was a lot talk over the offseason about whether the Cowboys had done the right thing by putting the franchise tag on Spencer, but today he proved that he was worth every penny that the front office is paying him. Spencer has always been known as a run stopper, but defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has told anyone who was willing to listen that Spencer was just as effective rushing the passer. Against Carolina, Spencer proved him right. For a team that has been struggling to finish out games, Spencer’s play was just what they needed. You can bet that Ryan is happy to have him back.

          Special Teams: Punt Coverage Unit

          Dallas Cowboys punter Moorman - The Boys Are Back blog

          I could have selected Dan Bailey and the job he was able to do getting those field goals home, but you have to give Brian Moorman and this punt coverage team a ton of credit. Moorman was a master at directional punting today. In four opportunities, the Panthers managed only four total yards on returns. Moorman averaged 49.3 yards per punt with a net of 48.3. There were plenty of times where he was able to flip the field position, which forced the Panthers offense to take the ball a long way down the field. In a backup role, Moorman has more than done his job and was a big reason why the Cowboys were able to successfully win this game.

          EGGSHELL OFFENSE–BOMBSHELL DEFENSE: Dallas Cowboys leave Carolina with crucial win

          EGGSHELL OFFENSE–BOMBSHELL DEFENSE - Dallas Cowboys leave Carolina with crucial win - The Boys Are Back blog

          CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In the most pivotal sequence of the game, when the Cowboys took a late lead over the Panthers, it appeared head coach Jason Garrett was playing to not lose rather than to win.

          Ultimately, though, that’s really all Sunday was about, and Garrett’s conservative decision to settle for a late field goal turned out to be the right call. The Cowboys defense did its job twice, and the visiting Dallas Cowboys left Carolina with a win, keeping this young season out of the ditch by advancing to 3-3, far more palatable than 2-4.

          Facing a third-and-nine at the Carolina 15, Garrett elected to run the ball rather than force a pass, which the Panthers were loaded up to stop. While the call would’ve certainly been questioned had it backfired, the coach was sure it was the best decision at the time.

          “They wanted to play big-time coverage there,” Garrett said. “We wanted to preserve the opportunity there to kick that field goal. … We felt like that was a good answer against the shell coverage, three-man rush they were going to do. If they had done something else, we would’ve been in something else.

          Dan Bailey nailed the go-ahead kick from a manageable distance.

          The season has had its ups and downs, but having played just two games at home and four on the road, the Cowboys are not in an awful position. They will have to play better than they did today to win big games ahead. That starts with next week’s rematch of their season-opening upset of the defending champion Giants, now 5-2 and atop the NFC East by 1.5 games.

          If the Cowboys are to become a team with even the slightest shot at competing for a title, it’ll be through the kind of perseverance they showed Sunday. Things were less than perfect from the very beginning, when Bailey’s opening kickoff sailed out of bounds, but the defense kept the Panthers from establishing an early edge. Likewise, the Cowboys’ offense got only three first-half drives, going three-and-out once, settling for a field goal after an 18 play march another time, then losing the ball on a fumble, but the defense kept the game close.

          The Panthers struggled to run the ball all day, save for quarterback Cam Newton, and he was forced into several mistakes of his own when attempting to pass, none more damning than a second quarter interception in the end zone by Morris Claiborne, amazingly the first pick by a Cowboys defensive back this season.

          The Panthers led 7-3 at halftime, making Sunday’s game the 11th they have lost after leading through two quarters under second-year head coach Ron Rivera. Though the Panthers added another touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had confidence in their defense to stop Newton late.

          “We trust our defense immensely,” Garrett said.

          On the Panthers’ ensuing possession, Newton appeared to extend the drive by converting a short fourth-down throw near midfield, but officials ruled Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had signaled a timeout first. When the teams lined up again, Newton’s pass was incomplete, cornerback Morris Claiborne appearing to get away with a physical defensive play on a pass to Louis Murphy.

          The turn of events allowed the Cowboys to tack on another field goal, forcing Carolina to have to go the length of the field at the end. Though Newton appeared to have a shot on a deep ball to Brandon LaFell, the Cowboys defense prevailed.

          “We feel like we always have pressure on us, no matter what the lead is, no matter if we’re down,” Claiborne said. “We have a lot of pride in what we do to go out and try to get stops.”

          The defense will have to be at its best once again in seven days, needing a repeat of Sept. 5, when they limited Eli Manning and New York to just 17 points. They’ll need more help from the offense along the way, too, with a more sustained run game and better protection of the ball than was on display against the Panthers.

          Though this team hasn’t yet been able to sustain momentum, they continue to build reasons for hope.

          “I think each week you have to start fresh and work hard,” said Miles Austin, who was on the receiving end of the Cowboys’ only touchdown. “It’s going to be big. It’s obviously a huge week … they all are.”

          RIVAL HEADLINE: Carolina Panthers fall to the Dallas Cowboys 19-14

          RIVAL HEADLINE - Carolina Panthers fall to the Cowboys 19-14 - The Boys Are Back blog

          CHARLOTTE — The Panthers disappointing season took another bitter turn Sunday.

          Dan Bailey kicked two late field goals to give Dallas a 19-14 victory over the Panthers in Bank of America Stadium, dropping Carolina to 1-5 with a trip to Chicago looming next week.

          Trailing 16-14, the Panthers’ late attempt to drive for a winning score was thwarted twice on fourth down by the Cowboys.

          Facing a fourth-and-two at their own 39-yard line, the Panthers appeared to get the first down on a completion from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen but officials nullified the play, saying the Cowboys had called timeout before it began.

          After the timeout, Newton threw an incompletion to Louis Murphy who was hit by Dallas defender Morris Claiborne. Murphy and the Panthers thought it was pass interference but no call was made, turning the ball over to the Cowboys at the Carolina 39-yard line.

          It led to a 38-yard Bailey field goal with 53 seconds remaining.

          The Panthers got one more shot in the final 50 seconds but couldn’t get past midfield.

          Cam Newton completed 20 of 36 passes for 222 yards and one touchdown. He also led the team with 61 rushing yards.

          After a sluggish third quarter offensively, the Panthers found a spark late in the third quarter and turned it into a 75-yard drive that culminated with a two-yard touchdown run by Mike Tolbert that put the Panthers ahead 14-13 with 11:38 remaining.

          The Panthers started the drive with a no-huddle offense. Jonathan Stewart broke a 20-yard gain then Louis Murphy caught a 26-yard pass from Newton to move the Panthers to the Dallas 19-yard line.

          Two penalties against the Cowboys, an unnecessary roughness and a holding call, helped the Panthers keep the drive alive.

          The Cowboys took a 10-7 lead on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Tony Romo to Miles Austin midway through the third quarter. Romo threw a beautiful pass to the back corner of the end zone where Austin was defended by Panthers rookie Josh Norman.

          One play earlier, Austin and Romo had connected on a 36-yard pass to move the Cowboys into Carolina territory.

          Romo completed 24 of 34 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown.

          Dallas stretched its advantage to 13-7 on a 49-yard Dan Bailey field goal with 2:13 remaining in the third quarter.

          After wasting some earlier opportunities, the Panthers got a five-yard touchdown pass from Newton to Brandon LaFell with 14 seconds remaining in the second quarter to take a halftime 7-3 lead.

          The possession started with a takeaway when Thomas Davis knocked the ball free from Cowboys receiver Thomas Davis and it was recovered by linebacker Luke Kuechly, giving the Panthers possession at the Dallas 20-yard line after an illegal block penalty against Charles Godfrey.

          The Panthers squandered good field position in the first quarter, failing to score after starting their first two possessions at the 40 and 45-yard line, respectively.

          The Cowboys used a grinding 18-play, 91-yard drive to take a 3-0 early in the second quarter on a Bailey field goal. Dallas chewed up 10 minutes, 10 seconds with the possession. The Cowboys converted four third-downs on the drive before stalling at the Carolina 1-yard line.

          The Panthers finally mounted a drive of their own behind Newton’s running and throwing.

          Newton had a 24-yard scramble on third down to keep the drive alive at the Dallas 30-yard line. Two plays later, Newton kept the ball on a designed play and rumbled 21 yards to the Cowboys’ 7-yard line.

          But the drive died suddenly when Newton was intercepted in the end zone by Cowboys rookie Morris Claiborne. Newton was looking for receiver Louis Murphy in the end zone when he was hit as began his throw. The pass came up well short and Claiborne made a diving catch to end the Carolina threat.

          The Panthers were without starting middle linebacker Jon Beason and cornerback Chris Gamble, both inactive due to injuries. It was also their first game since losing Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil to a season-ending foot injury.

          Courtesy: Ron Green Jr | Charlotte Observer

          TAKING IT PERSONAL: Kevin Ogletree explains his part in getting back to line of scrimmage and penalties

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          Kevin Ogletree spoke for himself and Pro Bowl veteran Miles Austin on Monday about not getting back to the line of scrimmage in time to help the Cowboys try to run another play and get closer for a game-winning field goal try.

          “That’s a personal mistake, for sure,” he said. “You want to, at that stage in the game, it’s very critical to at least get aligned to run a play, since the plays are so important. We just got to get that mentality that everything is happening fast, and it’s going to happen fluid.”

          Ogletree and Austin were criticized for not hustling back to the line after Dez Bryant’s catch to the 34-yard line with 20 seconds to play. The Cowboys wanted to spike the ball to stop the clock and run another play, but instead used their last timeout to stop the clock at six seconds and try the field goal.

          Cowboys coach Jason Garrett blamed himself for a play call that took the wideouts so far down the field, but Ogletree accepted blame. Austin declined comment to reporters Monday at Valley Ranch.

          “I know that’s my job to get there and get to the line,” he said. “I know Miles and I both feel bad about what happened, because we know the outcome. We know we missed the field goal and how close that was and how precious yardage was at the end of the day. So getting back to the line of scrimmage, maybe getting the play called, I think this will all be great for us going forward in learning a lesson.”

          Ogletree also accepted blame for the illegal shift penalties. He was called for three (one declined) against the Ravens.

          “I think the referees are doing an awesome job just calling things how they see it,” he said. “When a guy is not set or in a shift or a motion, someone before you moves, everyone has to be set. No one can be moving. So if a guy is moving a couple of fingers, hasn’t put every bit of pressure on his fingers on the line, he’s technically not set, so I can’t move until that happens. I have to do a better job at taking a look at that game plan and really just executing.”

          Ogletree said the Cowboys coaches spend “numerous” hours teaching alignments and responsibilities.

          “I think we’re more than anything letting our teammates down,” he said. “Of course, you let your coaches down, and everyone’s a part of this deal when you don’t have that success you want. I think I said this a second ago, but I really think what happened yesterday is going to be helpful going forward. Just because I know what type of guys we have. I know that feeling I have right now, it’s going to be good for us.”

          OFFENSIVE SNAPS: QB Kyle Orton, Beasley, Holmes, and Tanner impress late in the game

          Dallas Cowboys offensive line vs Chicago Bears - Line of scrimmage - The Boys Are Back blog

          A look at the snaps played by Cowboys’ offense in the team’s 34-18 loss to the Chicago Bears, while analyzing what it means:

          RT Doug Free: 70 of 70

          RG Mackenzy Bernadeau: 70 of 70

          LT Tyron Smith: 70 of 70

          C Ryan Cook: 70 of 70

          TE Jason Witten: 70 of 70

          LG Nate Livings: 70 of 70

          WR Dez Bryant: 68 of 70

          QB Tony Romo: 59 of 70

          WR Miles Austin: 49 of 70

          WR Kevin Ogletree: 49 of 70

          RB DeMarco Murray: 47 of 70

          WR Cole Beasley: 13 of 70

          FB Lawrence Vickers: 11 of 70

          QB Kyle Orton: 11 of 70

          RB Phillip Tanner: 11 of 70

          TE John Phillips: 10 of 70

          RB Felix Jones: 9 of 70

          WR Andre Holmes: 8 of 70

          WR Dwayne Harris: 6 of 70

          You can tell the Chicago Bears blew out the Cowboys because Tony Romo missed 11 snaps and he wasn’t hurt. Down by three touchdowns and three two-point conversations in the fourth quarter, Jason Garrett gave backup Kyle Orton his first playing time. Orton, with Cole Beasley and and Andre Holmes receiving extensive playing time by their standards, led Dallas on a scoring drive. … Late in the fourth quarter, Phillip Tanner replaced DeMarco Murray. … Felix Jones played only nine snaps but showed some burst and quickness on his only carry, which could increase his playing time down the road.

          ‘BOYS BYE WEEK BREAKDOWN: Dallas Cowboys offensive grades for Top 11 players

          Where's the Dallas Cowboys offense - The Boys Are Back blog

          QB Tony Romo: B-

          It would be easy to overreact to last night’s demolition, but Romo’s actual performance was nowhere near as poor as his stat line. Look, Romo isn’t playing his best ball, averaging only 7.6 yards-per-attempt. But he also isn’t getting any help from his receivers or offensive line.

          Jason Garrett might want to think about rolling Romo out to his right a bit more. That could quell some of the pressure he’s facing, and Romo has historically been much better throwing to the right side of the field. In 2012 alone, Romo’s passer rating when throwing to the right is 104.2, compared to only 74.6 over the middle and to the left. Nonetheless, only 16.6 percent of his passes have been thrown to the right side of the field.

          RB DeMarco Murray: B

          It’s really difficult to grade Murray because, like Romo, his production is so dependent on the offensive line. One might argue that a running back averaging 3.9 yards-per-carry shouldn’t receive a “B” grade, but anyone who has watched the Cowboys knows that Murray must consistently make something out of nothing. Ask yourself this: do you think Felix Jones would have posted as many rushing yards as Murray if given the same type of blocking? Don’t forget that Murray is also on pace for 64 receptions.

          FB Lawrence Vickers: D

          I really liked the Vickers signing, but it hasn’t paid dividends for Dallas yet. With Vickers in the game, the Cowboys are averaging just over two yards-per-carry. Rushing efficiency will never be eye-popping with Vickers due to an abundance of inside runs, but the ‘Boys need their fullback to pave the way for Murray in short-yardage situations to allow them to extend drives.

          LT Tyron Smith: C-

          Smith’s transition to the left side has been a struggle thus far. I think he’s athletic and intelligent enough that he’ll get it cleaned up. Smith’s return to form may have started against the Bears, because he actually played quite well. Nonetheless, I’ve counted Smith as yielding 10 pressures on the season.

          LG Nate Livings: B+

          It’s sad that an interior lineman will receive my highest offensive grade through the season’s first quarter. Livings has played very well for the ‘Boys through four games, allowing just one sack and two pressures.

          C Ryan Cook: C-

          Due to a solid opening game shortly after being signed, many believe Cook is playing better than what’s actually the case. He’s been okay in pass protection, but absolutely awful in the running game. While Jason Garrett’s predictable strong side dives aren’t doing Cook any favors, the Cowboys are averaging just over one yard on each run with Cook at the point-of-attack.

          RG Mackenzy Bernadeau: D-

          Bernadeau has been the worst Cowboys interior lineman I’ve graded since I started reviewing film four years ago. Granted, he’s played in only four games, but I don’t think there are many signs that Bernadeau is going to improve. He has allowed twice as much pressure as Livings and Cook combined.

          RT Doug Free: D

          There have certainly problems on the left side of the ‘Boys offensive line, but it’s the Bernadeau-Free combination on the right side that’s killing them. Only two offensive tackles in the entire NFL have allowed more pressure than what I’ve attributed to Free. We all thought Free would rebound after the switch back to his more natural right tackle position, but Cowboys running backs are averaging a full yard less behind Free as compared to Smith.

          WR Miles Austin: B+

          Austin has been targeted 28 times in 2012, catching 18 of those throws for 300 yards. Currently on pace for a stat line of 72 receptions, 1200 yards, and 12 touchdowns, Austin has been the only consistent option for Romo in the passing game.

          WR Dez Bryant: C-

          Bryant’s issue right now, in my opinion, is mental. He isn’t a player like Terrell Owens or Brandon Marshall who will always suffer from drops; he has outstanding hands, but he appears to lack confidence right now. Bryant will get it turned around, so Romo needs to trust his third-year receiver and keep going back to him.

          TE Jason Witten: D+

          It was great to see Witten rebound against the Bears, but it wasn’t like he was incredibly efficient. His 112 yards came on 14 targets, and that 8.0 YPA is about where he should be all of the time. On the season, Witten has the most targets of any player on offense, but he’s averaging only 5.5 YPA. His catch rate of 61.8 percent will improve, but I’m not confident that his per-catch efficiency will do the same.

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