From the beginning, it was apparent this game would belong to one man. Not Tony Romo or Jay Cutler or Matt Forte or Dez Bryant or Alshon Jeffery or Brandon Marshall. No; tonight Soldier Field was DeMarco Murray‘s playground, and play he did.
It was cold and windy — a typical December night in Chicago — but Murray never had a chance to cool down early on. Again and again and again his number was called. At the end, when any mortal man should have been laying on the sidelines, oxygen mask affixed to his face like Bane, Murray celebrated the Dallas Cowboys (9-4) 41-28 victory over the Chicago Bears (5-8) with the vigor of a man who had toted the ball far less than 41 times.
By the time each team headed to the locker rooms, Murray had 105 yards to his name, as many as the entire Bears team. Running behind a dominant, powerful line, Murray danced between tackles, a 227-pound danzatore in pads. Elusive when he needed to be, aggressive when any stood in his way, the one-man show became apparent on a six minute Cowboys drive in the second quarter, which featured 10 Murray touches — nine straight to begin — and ended in a touchdown run up the gut on fourth and goal.
The Bears defense was gassed, the offense was cold. The Bears mustered just 20 total yards in the first quarter, the only big play coming on a 29-yard pass interference penalty by Brandon Carr on Alshon Jeffery. Just as Chicago’s offense began to click, Brandon Marshall — after snagging a high ball on fourth and 15 from the Dallas 30 — took a Barry Church knee to the back and had to exit the game. The Bears’ playmaker would leave in an ambulance and head for the hospital — the rest of the team, at that point, might as well have joined.
The fans, already miserable, bundled tight in 10 layers of Bears gear, looked defeated, even after a Martellus Bennett 12 yard touchdown catch tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter. After that touchdown, Tony Romo and Murray took command, making the game look simple, like it was a playground, except the Cowboys were middle schoolers and the Bears were fourth graders.
The Bears notoriously bad secondary offered Romo little resistance. Cole Beasley had his first two touchdown game, dragging safety Chris Conte along for a four yard ride on one and narrowly missing a third by inches.
Following a 17-yard Joseph Randle scamper, the Cowboys led 35-7 with just over 17 minutes left in the game. Over. Done Deal.
Actually, it wasn’t. These are the Cowboys, and “done deal” doesn’t exist until the clock reads 00:00.
Even with Marshall and his injured ribs en route to the hospital, the Bears still had playmakers out on the field. Jeffery hauled in a 27-yard touchdown from Cutler to begin the fourth quarter. A 12-play, 67-yard drive ensued, ending in a Matt Forte touchdown and two-point conversion.
The Bears were thinking win, they were thinking onside kick. The Cowboys were not, and Dante Rosario made them pay, recovering the ball at the 50. Three plays later, Jay Cutler was scrambling in for a touchdown, and Jerry Jones was scrambling for another cocktail. The score stood at 38-28 with 6 minutes left — if any team could lose this game, a game so thoroughly dominated by one team for 45 minutes, it was Dallas.
The Cowboys recovered the next onside try, but could only muster a field goal, keeping it a two-possession contest. Jones’ eyes were bulging out of his head now.
Murray could no longer be the hero — it would have to be the Dallas defense. Cutler methodically moved the Bears down the field, taking up time but chiseling away at the Cowboys’ confidence with each completion.
First-and-10 from the Dallas 10. Cutler drops back, surveys, and rifles a ball to Josh Morgan in the end zone. It’s caught, not by Morgan, but by a leaping Orlando Scandrick, gripping with the ball like his first born child. Jones, Garret, Romo and the rest finally exhale after an eternity of bated breath.
Tonight, Murray was the Hero, but Scandrick was the Savior.
Players of the Game
1. DeMarco Murray: 32 carries, 179 yards, 1 TD. 9 reception, 49 yards.
Murray was the Dallas offense for almost the entire game. Every touchdown was set up by Murray rushes, with Chicago expecting him to touch the ball on every play. The offensive line, Travis Frederick in particular, did an excellent job pushing and pulling for Murray.
It won’t happen, but Zack Martin absolutely deserves some Rookie of the Year consideration. The rookie out of Notre Dame has been consistent all year long for the best rushing attack in the league.
2. Tony Romo: 21/26, 205 yards, 3 TD, 0 TO.
Following a horrific outing against Philadelphia on Thanksgiving, Romo righted the ship, playing efficiently, if not a bit too cautious in some of his throws. There were plenty of check-downs to Murray, but he also made huge throws to Cole Beasley, Dez Bryant and Gavin Escobar when the time called for it.
3. Orlando Scandrick: 9 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass deflection, 1 INT.
Scandrick is going to get beat from time to time, but he’s one of the best tackling DBs in the NFL. There are few corners in the league who can bust through the heart of the offensive line and throw down Matt Forte for a loss of 6. Add in his game-saving interception, and Scandrick deserves the nod here.
You could also make the case for Beasley, who had the first two touchdown game of his career tonight.
Plays of the Game
1. Scandrick’s game-saving interception
Even if the Bears scored a touchdown, they would still need to recover an onside kick and boot a field goal to bring this game into overtime. Still, Scandrick’s pick was athletic and clutch at a time when the Dallas defense desperately needed to get off the field.
2. Cole Beasley’s second touchdown catch
This was a classic Romo play. Chased out of the pocket by Will Young, Romo gave the slightest of hesitation jukes to free himself. Scrambling towards the right sideline with room running out fast, Romo lofted a rainbow down the sideline to Beasley. Chris Conte mistimed his jump by 0.5 seconds, and Beasley managed to snag the ball and squirm into the end zone. Twenty-four yards later, Dallas, thanks to some timely Romo magic, led 21-7.
3. Consecutive fourth down conversions
The Cowboys’ offense stated its intentions clearly on the third offensive drive of the game: it was here to end this game quickly. Twice the Cowboys went for it on fourth down in Bears territory. Twice it converted using, of course, Murray up the gut. The final conversion was good for Murray’s only score of the game.
Stat that jumped out: Third and fourth down efficiency
The Cowboys are the second best team in the NFL on third down, converting at a 49 percent clip. Tonight, Dallas converted 7 of its 14 third downs to go along with a perfect 2-for-2 on fourth down.
Conversely, the Bears were just 2-for-10 on third down, though it did manage to convert all three fourth down tries late in the game.
Up Next: @Philadelphia Eagles (9-3), Dec. 14 8:30 PM ETD
This is a big one. The Cowboys have already secured a winning record for the first time since 2009, but if Dallas wants to keep its slim chances at a division title alive, it must win this matchup.
Dallas also needs to keep winning, as Seattle and Detroit each sit at 8-4, with San Francisco 7-5. The Wild Card race is very much a race in the NFC.