DeMarco Murray sick, misses Christmas practice

December, 25, 2014
Dec 25
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IRVING, Texas -- A day after going through his first full practice after having surgery on a broken left hand, Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was absent because he was sick.

Coach Jason Garrett said Murray was with the team for meetings earlier in the day but he was sent home to get rest. The Cowboys do not expect it to affect him for Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins. He needs 29 yards to set the Cowboys’ single-season rushing record held by Emmitt Smith, who ran for 1,773 yards in 1995.

“Looked like he was down in the dumps a little bit with a cold or a fever, hopefully it wasn’t the flu,” tight end Jason Witten said. “But I think he showed last week what kind of toughness he has and what a pro he is. He’ll bounce back. He’ll be here and he’ll be ready to go.”

Quarterback Tony Romo returned to practice and took part in a full session as he continued the same routine he has followed since the second game of the season to maintain and build strength in his back. Linebacker Rolando McClain also returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday to rest his knee and tend to affairs related to the fire that burned down his Alabama home earlier in the week.

Defensive tackle Josh Brent went through a full practice for the first time since injuring his calf three weeks ago and could make his return against the Redskins. Guard Zack Martin (ankle) and safety Jeff Heath (thumb) went through full workouts. Right tackle Doug Free (ankle) and linebacker Dekoda Watson (hamstring) did not practice.

Jason Garrett: 'No meaningless games'

December, 25, 2014
Dec 25
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IRVING, Texas -- On Monday Jason Garrett was asked if he would play his regulars on Sunday against the Washington Redskins. He was asked about it on Wednesday. He was asked again on Thursday.

It’s been the gift that keeps on giving.

It goes to this premise: “There are no meaningless games,” the Dallas Cowboys coach said.

So the Cowboys practice this week as if everything is on the line Sunday at FedEx Field. There are remote chances at home-field advantage and a first-round bye that override the factor of a potential injury. It doesn’t matter that Tony Romo has hurt his back in the last two meetings against the Redskins, including the Oct. 27 meeting when he suffered two transverse process fractures.

“There’s a playoff scenario with us winning the game will give us an opportunity to get a first-round bye so we’re going to take advantage of what we can take advantage of and players are football players,” Garrett said. “There are 16 opportunities to play and guys who are healthy are going to play in this game and practice this week and play in the game. Ballgames are important to us.”

J.J. Wilcox growing into the position

December, 25, 2014
Dec 25
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IRVING, Texas -- J.J. Wilcox has been a safety for only three seasons. He has had to learn the job on the fly, since the Dallas Cowboys took him in the third round of the 2013 draft.

Even though he had a career-high 15 tackles against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving, Wilcox was displeased with how he played. He was too aggressive, out of control and not in position.

In the three games since the 33-10 loss to the Eagles, Wilcox’s play has been much better. He has two interceptions in the last two games, including a key takeaway in the rematch against Philadelphia. His pick against the Indianapolis Colts in the end zone last week ended the half.

“I’m still new to the position but I can definitely say it’s taking a tone down off the speed and understanding where I need to be and understanding my assignments and how the opponent is going to attack us,” said Wilcox, who played running back before moving to safety in his last year at Georgia Southern. “Studying film a little extra and understanding the defense helps a lot.”

Wilcox is fourth on the defense in tackles with 83, according to the coaches’ breakdown. He is tied with Bruce Carter for the lead in interceptions with three. He also has a quarterback pressure, five pass breakups to go along with a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli sees Wilcox much more comfortable in the scheme.

“When you really get to the landmarks and where you’re supposed to be and you do it over and over and over, you get vision,” Marinelli said. “His athleticism is off the charts. I mean he is a great athlete.”
IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett likes to say the Dallas Cowboys have to be their best whether they play at home, on the road, in a parking lot or on the moon.

Until the NFL moves games to a parking lot or the moon, the home and road will have to suffice. At home, the Cowboys posted a 4-4 record in the regular season. On the road, the Cowboys are perfect this season.

With a win Sunday at FedEx Field against the Washington Redskins, the Cowboys will post their second undefeated road record in franchise history. They went 7-0 away from home in 1968.

Since the 1970 merger, seven teams have posted perfect road records. Six of the seven made it to the Super Bowl. Only the 1990 San Francisco 49ers failed to make it to the title game, losing to Bill Parcells and the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game.

The 2007 New England Patriots, 2001 St. Louis Rams, 1989 49ers, 1984 49ers, 1982 Redskins and 1972 Miami Dolphins made it to the Super Bowl.

So maybe there really is something on the line for the Cowboys Sunday?

Cowboys need better answers against Redskins

December, 25, 2014
Dec 25
10:30
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IRVING, Texas -- The last two times Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo played the Washington Redskins, he hurt his back.

Romo
Last December at FedEx Field, he was able to deliver the Cowboys a 24-23 victory with a fourth-down touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter, but five days later he underwent a discectomy. In October, Romo suffered two transverse process fractures in a 20-17 overtime loss at AT&T Stadium.

For those wanting the Cowboys to rest some of their regulars, like Romo, his recent history against the Redskins is the reason why.

"I go in with the exact, same mental approach I do every game," Romo said. "If you're a football player and there's a game, there's only one way to play and it's hard the whole time. You go all out. I think you're doing a disservice to the game and your team if you don't play that way. To me, regardless of circumstance and situation, if I'm out on the football field, you're going to see the best version of myself. And I think you're going to see that with our football team."

Romo has an 8-7 record against the Redskins. He has thrown for 3,698 yards with 25 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. With Jim Haslett as the Redskins' defensive coordinator, the Cowboys have scored fewer than 20 points in four of Romo's eight games, including the first meeting this season.

Romo completed a season-low 60.7 percent of his passes (17 of 28). He was sacked a season-high five times, including one that knocked him out of the game momentarily and cost him the next game against the Arizona Cardinals because of the fractures.

He has been sacked 18 times in the eight games against Haslett.

"They do a good job," Romo said. "We've played them a long time they know some of our stuff. We're going to have some different things up this time, (against) all out pressures that I don't think they'll be ready for and have seen before and then some of the other stuff we've done (against) some of the trap coverages. We'll have some stuff ready for that and I'm excited to go out there and execute."

Cowboys vs. Redskins preview

December, 25, 2014
Dec 25
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video When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md. TV: Fox.

The Washington Redskins don’t have anything to play for, other than pride and a feel-good vibe to close the season. It’s debatable how much the Dallas Cowboys really have to play for, too, considering the long-shot scenario for them to improve their playoff positioning with a win.

But the Redskins would like nothing more than to sweep Dallas. It wouldn’t exactly turn a 5-11 season into something other than bad, but it would pacify a group of fans who believe that beating Dallas is all that matters.

Regardless, the Cowboys will be in the playoffs and the Redskins will be watching them. A lot of this game comes down to this: Will Cowboys coach Jason Garrett play his starters -- as he has said?

ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer and Redskins reporter John Keim look ahead to Sunday’s game.

Keim: At what point did you buy in to this Cowboys team and think it had a legitimate shot to win the division? And what is the difference in this group compared to the past couple of seasons?

Archer: Um, how about last week? I’ve been on the fence pretty much the entire season. And I still don’t know how good they are. I guess I just have to get over it. When you are around a team as much as we are around a team, you tend to see just the flaws. There were times in training camp when this defense was dreadful; I remember a day when the running backs weren’t touched until they were 10 yards down the field. I was among the more optimistic prognosticators when I predicted 8-8 at the beginning of the season, so I certainly didn’t see this success. I thought the offense would be terrific and the defense would be bad, and I didn’t envision the offense being able to protect the defense as much as it has. I also have to give the defense and coordinator Rod Marinelli credit. It has been far from perfect, but the unit has made timely plays all season. But back to the question: I think the second Eagles game finally got me convinced that the Cowboys have a chance. They were waxed by Philadelphia on Thanksgiving. In the rematch, they blew a 21-point lead and answered on the next drive. That was when I really thought, "They’re not the same old Cowboys." Maybe I was late to the party.

Cowboys fans surely are happy with the Redskins for beating the Eagles last week. The Redskins' season is over, obviously, and they can’t ruin the Cowboys’ season, but how much is at stake for Robert Griffin III?

Keim: There is a decent amount at stake, but as of now it appears Griffin will return, so on Sunday he’s not playing for his Redskins future. I haven’t gotten the sense yet that they would get rid of him. I also know that some of the issues the coaches have with his game will take a lot of work in the offseason to correct. It’s not just how he operates in the pocket; it’s also his mechanics as a passer -- inconsistency with his feet, his base, how he stands. One game won’t alter their opinion, but if he can play well and they win Sunday? It would go a long way toward showing the coaches how they can win with him.

How strongly should DeMarco Murray be considered for NFL MVP? Obviously his stat line is terrific, but what has he done that has put him in this category?

Archer: Oh, I think he should be considered for the award, but if I had a vote, I’d give it to Tony Romo. He is having his best season and has made big plays at big moments. But since you asked about Murray, I’ll stick with him. He needs 29 yards to pass Emmitt Smith’s franchise record for yards in a season. To me, the offensive line has played a big part in Murray’s season, but he did more work on looking at opposing fronts and trying to understand what the defense does and letting that flow into the Cowboys’ running game. He’s put up a lot of yards and had some big games, but I think his understanding of the Cowboys’ run schemes and what the defense wants to do have been the biggest difference. There have been times when you still wonder about his vision, but he has answered just about any question that people might have had about him. He deserves to be in the MVP discussion, as does Romo. It’s possible these guys could split their vote.

From the outside and with Texas ties, it’s all about RG III from the Cowboys’ perspective. Jerry Jones still sees the guy who ripped up Dallas on Thanksgiving two years ago. Can he be that guy again?

Keim: Oh, it’s all about Griffin up here, too. That is part of the problem, and it’s worn many out, including Griffin. It’s amazing to think that he might never be that guy again, but with some of the talent around him he’s capable of big games. Still, I don’t know if he can have that sort of magical year again. He has to definitely improve as a passer -- be more accurate, see the field better -- to regain that consistency. The spread offense in college did not prepare him for life in the NFL. Regardless, I’m not about to write him off, because of the memory of 2012 and because he’s rather young. Right now it’s hard to believe that he can play at that level consistently. (More than a few in the organization feel that way.) Griffin was more explosive then, and the offense did a good job of using his talents while defenses tried to figure him out. I always felt, even in 2012, that for him to keep growing as a quarterback, his mechanics and passing had to improve. They haven’t done so to the necessary level. I don’t know if he will ever be a truly good pocket passer -- is it instinctual? How much can it be developed? But let’s see what happens when Griffin gets another offseason in this offense and more chances to work on his fundamentals. It would also help Griffin if the Redskins improved more around him, lessening the need for Pro Bowl-level performances.

Do you get a sense from the Dallas offensive players as to why they have struggled at times against the Redskins’ defense?

Archer: The easy answer is execution. That’s what they always say. Some of it has been the plans put together by the coaches. Up until this season, the Cowboys had holes on their line and had a hard time with any team that featured a lot of pressure packages. In the first meeting, they struggled again with the pressure. It’s almost as if defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has Romo guessing. Romo is able to get a good feel for what defenses do against him during the course of his film study, but some of the stuff Haslett does has no rhyme or reason. As a result, the Cowboys can’t figure out the tendencies and are often left guessing, and too often they have guessed wrong. The past two times Romo has played the Redskins, he has hurt his back. Obviously that can’t happen Sunday, but the Cowboys had better get a read on what Haslett will do. To me, it’s imperative they excel on first and second down early in the game.

For as well as Romo has played this season, he still has to get over the Haslett hump. Does Haslett have the Cowboys' -- and Romo’s -- number?

Keim: It certainly seems that way at times. The Redskins have a great feel for what Romo and the offense want to do. And they have always felt that their style of play works well against Dallas. They have cornerbacks who can and like to play physical, and they don’t feel like the Dallas receivers will run past them. They have Romo’s cadence well-timed and, in the first meeting this season, did an excellent job of shifting at the last second. Why? Because they knew after the center made his protection call, Romo would then adjust and that would be it -- and that’s when the Redskins’ defense would adjust. They also love using stunts against young linemen, and that has hurt the Cowboys as well. But Dallas will be facing a different defense because of injuries.
video
video

The NFL Live crew make their picks for Dallas at Washington.

DeMarco Murray goes through full practice

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
4:18
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray went through his first full practice since undergoing surgery to repair a broken left hand last week.

Murray
Murray was limited in two practices leading into the Indianapolis Colts but played and had 22 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown in the Cowboys' 42-7 win. Rookie guard Zack Martin did not practice last week because of an ankle injury but also played against the Colts. Like Murray, he took part in a full practice Wednesday.

"I definitely don't want to go through not practicing again," said Martin, who was named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday. "You'd be surprised on how many little things you can lose just by not practicing a couple times. So I'm happy to be back on the practice field today."

Josh Brent returned to practice in a limited fashion after missing the last two games with a calf injury. He was able to do some sprints before the Colts' game but acknowledged he would need to practice to get a better feel for his injury before determining if he could play Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

Quarterback Tony Romo followed his customary schedule of sitting out of Wednesday's practice. Right tackle Doug Free (ankle) also did not practice, and linebacker Rolando McClain was in Alabama after his house burned down on Monday. If he had been in town, there was a good chance he would not have practiced to rest his sore knee. Linebacker Dekoda Watson also did not practice, while safety Jeff Heath (thumb) took part in a full session.

Cowboys OL might make group trip to Pro Bowl

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
4:05
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IRVING, Texas -- There is not a closer group among the Dallas Cowboys than the offensive line.

Each week they go out to dinner as a group. When Sports Illustrated wanted to do a feature on the starting line, they made sure to include Jermey Parnell and Mackenzy Bernadeau in the photo.

On Tuesday, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin were selected to the Pro Bowl and they couldn't help but think about Doug Free and Ronald Leary.

“I certainly believe that Ron and Doug do belong in that conversation,” Frederick said. “And things that we've done as a group, we always talk about Mac and JP are as pivotal as the starters. You can see when JP can come in and step in and play as well as he has and when Mac stepped in the way he did, there's no fall out, no drop off. That's what's awesome about our group.”

Said Martin, “We think the whole room is deserving of going. But we're going to represent our O-line well and just can't say enough about the group and how fun it is to play with those guys.”

When the subject was broached as to whether the Pro Bowl picks would invite their linemates to the Pro Bowl to enjoy the week, Frederick said, “It's certainly something to think about.”

The line has helped DeMarco Murray lead the NFL in rushing and make the Pro Bowl. It has helped Dez Bryant lead the NFL in touchdown receptions and make the Pro Bowl. It has helped Tony Romo lead the league in passer rating and completion percentage and make the Pro Bowl.

The Cowboys went from 1981 until 2011 between using a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. That year they drafted Smith with the ninth pick. In each of the last two years they have picked Frederick (No. 31) and Martin (No. 14) in the first round.

“I think we recognize how well those guys play individually and how well they play collectively,” coach Jason Garrett said. “It's a real tribute to Coach Callahan and Frank Pollack as well. That unit is outstanding. Those individual guys play really well together. The kind of guys we liked and believed were cornerstones players for our franchise. Certainly worth the resources that we used to get them. They've played really, really well. They've played the right way. When you're strong on the offensive and defensive lines, you have a chance to be a good football team. I think we understand that.”
IRVING, Texas – A year ago at this time, Tony Romo was preparing for a back surgery that kept him out of the winner-take-all season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles and cast a doubt as to whether he would return to form.

“I think I feel better this time of year than I did last year at this time,” Romo said, “so that’s a positive. So Merry Christmas.”

Romo
The condition of Romo’s back has been a major storyline for the entire season. He did not work more than two straight days in training camp. He has not practiced more than two straight days during the regular season since the second game of the season, sitting out on Wednesdays.

It has led to perhaps the best season of his career: 32 touchdown passes, eight interceptions and an NFL-best passer rating (114.4) and completion percentage (70.3 percent).

It also led to the fourth Pro Bowl invitation of his career. Teammates Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin also were picked.

“I think we all recognized he had a really good year before [the Pro Bowl announcement],” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s played awfully well and handled all of the different obstacles of coming back from his injury really well. But Tony has been an outstanding player for a long time. I think we’ve gotten better around him. He’s certainly had as good of a year as he’s had in his career this year. He’s playing at a very high level.”

While recognizing the honor, Romo has larger visions.

“More than anything, you’re just so focused on trying to win a championship right now,” Romo said. “It’s obviously an honor anytime your peers and coaches and fans vote for you, and something like that it’s always a very humbling feeling. At the same time, I think we all know what our goals are and hopefully none of us are playing in that football team and we’re all playing in Arizona for the championship. I think that’s what our minds are focused on right now. It’s just getting ready for the second part of the season.”

That’s what drives Romo. He has been able to quell the December narrative by leading the Cowboys to three straight wins to clinch the NFC East for the first time since 2009 while throwing 10 touchdown passes without an interception.

If or when Romo throws an interception or the Cowboys lose, the criticism will return.

“I think we all understand that it comes down to winning a championship,” Romo said. “That’s part of it. For me, all of the other stuff is stuff to talk about. It comes down to that. I don’t shy away from that. I think that’s what makes the game great. It gives you to find your way to lead your team to a championship. That’s why you’ve got to cash in when you have the opportunities. We understand where we’re at and how important it is.”
video

Jean-Jacques Taylor and Todd Archer explain why the Cowboys should play their starters against the Redskins on Sunday, although they have already clinched the NFC East, and discuss Dallas' six Pro Bowlers.

Cowboys' DeMarco Murray on practice field

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
12:35
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IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray assumed his normal practice duties on Wednesday after playing last week against the Indianapolis Colts six days after undergoing surgery to repair a broken left hand.

Murray
During the portion of practice open to the media, Murray took the two first-team snaps in warmups that went to Joseph Randle last week. He continues to wear a hard plastic shell on the top of his hand for added protection.

Quarterback Tony Romo is operating on his normal practice week, sitting out Wednesday’s session to lift weights and strengthen his core. Right tackle Doug Free is also missing practice because of an ankle injury. Right guard Zack Martin is practicing after he sat out all of last week’s work because of an ankle injury.

Linebacker Rolando McClain is in Alabama, tending to affairs related to his Tuscaloosa house that burned down on Monday. Coach Jason Garrett said McClain could return later today.

Defensive tackle Josh Brent returned to practice after missing the last two games because of a calf strain. Linebacker Dekoda Watson is missing practice for a fifth straight week with a hamstring strain.
IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys will be more than happy to give up their sixth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens in 2015 for what Rolando McClain has meant to their success in 2014.

Because McClain will play in more than 50 percent of the defensive snaps, the Cowboys will fork over their sixth rounder to the Ravens, while getting Baltimore’s seventh-round pick in return, as per the July trade between the clubs.

McClain
The Cowboys made a low-risk deal that could have cost them nothing in return. In desperate need to find a replacement for Sean Lee, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in May, the Cowboys simply hoped McClain could regain some of the form that made him the eighth pick of the 2010 draft for the Oakland Raiders. He had retired twice and his time with the Raiders did not go well.

Jason Garrett reached out to his former boss and McClain’s coach at Alabama, Nick Saban. Jerry Jones reached out to McClain while on vacation in Turkey.

It could not have worked out any better.

According to the coaches’ breakdown, McClain leads the Cowboys in tackles with 108. He also has one sack, nine tackles for loss, five quarterback pressures, two interceptions, five pass breakups and one forced fumble.

He has played in 633 of 950 snaps while not playing in two games because of groin and knee injuries.

He is set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Cowboys will have Lee returning from his torn anterior cruciate ligament, but they could keep McClain and move Lee to the weakside linebacker spot.

Terrance Williams' production a good thing

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
11:00
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IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys' offense is at its best, everybody is involved.

Tony Romo's four touchdown passes in the 42-7 win against the Indianapolis Colts went to four different receivers: Terrance Williams, Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley and Jason Witten.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Williams
AP Photo/Tim SharpCan Terrance Williams follow up his two-TD game when the Cowboys play at Washington in Week 17?
For all of the focus Bryant and Witten get, the Cowboys need Williams and Beasley to come through.

"That goes to show you how many playmakers we have," Beasley said. "We had so many guys score touchdowns, just glad I could do it."

Williams' first touchdown came on an underneath route that the Cowboys have had success with multiple times this season. Witten and Beasley run out-breaking routes and Williams breaks free across the middle.

Williams said Romo changed the play at the line after seeing the Colts' defense.

"It's our job to find a way for him to throw the ball," Williams said. "I think we do a good job of trying to complement him."

Williams caught two passes for 52 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts. His second touchdown was a 43-yarder from Brandon Weeden in the fourth quarter. He has back to back games with multiple catches for the first time since Weeks 9-10. His 52 yards were the most since he had 69 on Oct. 27 against the Washington Redskins. It was his first multi-touchdown game in 10 games.

He has eight touchdown catches on the season, the most by a receiver not named Bryant for the Cowboys since Laurent Robinson had 11 in 2011.

"Anytime a player is productive or as productive Terrance was [Sunday] it's a good thing for them, whether or not he needs it," coach Jason Garrett said. "I don't know that he needs it. One of the things he does is when he gets opportunities he cashes in on it. I think [Sunday] was a great example of that. He got the third down early to score the touchdown. Then he gets the chance late to run by the guy on the nine route. So he's always ready. He always plays the right way. When he gets his chances he typically comes through."

Cowboys in the Super Bowl? Why not?

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
10:00
AM ET
video
ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer discusses an improbable success story.

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