The Dallas Cowboys set the stage for a winner take all meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles next Sunday with a resounding 41-28 victory over the Chicago Bears in a game that turned out to be much closer than the final score indicated.
Running back DeMarco Murray unleashed his inner beast to the tune of 179 yards on 32 carries for his best game of the year. This contest was a reversal of fortune for the Cowboys performance a week earlier when the Eagles held the league’s leading rusher to a season low 73 yards. While Murray was busy on the ground, quarterback Tony Romo was just as effective in the air. He was 21 of 26 passes for 205 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The first quarter was a wash for both teams as neither was able to establish any type of offensive rhythm. The second period was a different story. Facing a fourth and one at the Chicago 13 early into the second quarter, the Cowboys sent Murray off the right side of the line for four yards. The Bears defense stiffened, and once again Dallas faced a fourth and one at the goal line. Murray was called on once again and responded with his eighth TD of the year. The fourth down calls were indicative of the importance Head Coach Jason Garrett and the Cowboy organization itself, placed on this game.
Chicago wasn’t fazed by the urgency the team placed on this contest. Led by quarterback Jay Cutler, who had never lost to the Cowboys, the Bears marched 80 yards downfield including a spectacular 42-yard juggling catch by wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Quarterback Jay Cutler ended the drive when he found former Cowboy tight end Martellus Bennett in the end zone for a 13-yard score.
The Cowboys next possession turned into the Dez and DeMarco show as both Bryant and Murray took turns driving the team downfield. Tight end Jason Witten finally crashed the party with a timely 19-yard reception on third and 15. Slot receiver Cole Beasley put an exclamation point on the offensive series as he stretched the ball over the goal line for a 13-yard score with just eight seconds left in the half.
Chicago returned the opening kickoff for 30 yards. On third and eight, Cutler completed a pass to Matt Forte that went for 21 yards before Dallas defensive end Anthony Spencer forced a fumble that cornerback Sterling Moore recovered and returned 17 yards to the Chicago 31. With momentum starting to shift, Romo found himself flushed from the pocket on a third and 3. He lofted the ball perfectly into the hands of Cole Beasley who once again stretched the ball over the goal line before his knee hit for a 24-yard score. The Dallas defense stuffed Chicago on their next series. The Bears’ running game had literally ground to a halt and without star receiver Brandon Marshall working his magic – a bruised rib injury forced him out of the game – Cutler’s air attack was almost non-existent as well.
Dwayne Harris returned the ensuing punt 47 yards for a touchdown, but it was nullified when Cowboy Micah Pellerin was called for an illegal block. Undaunted, Romo connected with Dez Bryant for a 43-yard gain. Two plays later, tight end Gavin Escobar caught his only pass of the game, a six-yard TD toss. After Dan Bailey kicked the ball into the end zone, the Chicago offense returned only to fail once again at mounting any type of serious scoring threat. The Cowboys took over and basically handed the ball right back to Murray to do his thing. After he had gained 45 yards in four carries, running back Joseph Randall was brought in to give his teammate a breather. Randall made the most of his one carry. He scampered into the end zone from 17 yards out to give Dallas what seemed an insurmountable 35-7 lead to end the third quarter.
Chicago seemed to be in total disarray until a 26-yard pass interference call at the Dallas 27 set the Bears up to start the fourth quarter. Cutler didn’t waste any time taking advantage of the miscue. He hit tight end Alshon Jeffrey on a 27-yard scoring strike to breathe some life into the offense. The point after was blocked by Dallas. On the Cowboys next possession, the team relied on the legs of DeMarco Murray. The running back responded by bursting through the middle for a 40-yard gain to the Chicago 18. A fourteen yard loss by Murray on the next play, followed by an incomplete pass would force Dallas to settle for a 35-yard field goal from Dan Bailey.
Call it pride, grit, determination or a combination of all three, the Chicago Bears made a concerted effort to get the team back into the ball game. Though their next possession consumed five minutes off the clock, it did result in Matt Forte one-yard TD run. Escobar was unable to handle the onside kick and Chicago recovered. One minute and eight seconds later, Cutler ran the ball in from 10 yards out to make it a 38-28 game with six minutes left.
Dallas defensive back Orlando Scandrick was clearly upset on the sideline. Television cameras caught the cornerback storming up and down the sidelines excoriating the team for its poor play. On the offensive side of the ball, it was becoming ‘all DeMarco all the time’ and again, the running back was up to the task as he rushed for 34 yards on four attempts. The drive stalled out and Dallas settled for another Dan Bailey field goal and a 41-28 lead with six minutes to go in the game. With momentum clearly on Chicago’s side, Cutler once again drove the team down the field.
The Chicago quarterback passed at will through the Cowboy secondary driving the Bears down towards what appeared to be another touchdown. With a first and ten on the Dallas 10, Cutler’s magic touch came to a crashing end when Scandrick intercepted the ball ending the threat. For the first time in four years, the month of December had finally yielded a winning season for the organization instead of ending it with futility.
Cowboy Notes – DeMarco Murray’s 32 rushing attempts and 8 receptions was the most touches for a running back in eight years. The last player to achieve that feat was Shaun Alexander of the Seattle Seahawks in 2006. The former Oklahoma Sooner running back also tied Emmitt Smith’s season record of eleven 100-yard rushing games. He needs to average 167 yards against the Eagles, Colts and Redskins to break Eric Dickerson’s record, 137 per game to become the first Cowboy to rush for 2,000 and 56 yards per contest to surpass Smith’s team record of 1,773 set in 1995.
As all Cowboy fans know by now, the Cowboys dominate the month November and disappear when it really counts in December. Since 2008, the team has posted a 15-9 record in September; 11-16 in October; 20-9 in November and 10-15 December. The victory over the Bears ensured Dallas would have its first winning season in four years. They need to win two of their last three games to have any shot at the playoffs. Fortunately, two of those games are on the road.
After two years of inactivity, defensive tackle Josh Brent saw his first game action. Brent hadn’t played a game since his DUI crash killed his best friend and teammate Jerry Brown Jr. He was convicted of intoxication manslaughter, spent three months in jail and sentenced to ten years on probation. Against the Eagles, the defense gave up a season high 256 yards on the ground. The defense limited Chicago star running back Matt Forte to 5 yards in the first half and 26 for the game.
– David Huff
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