Courtesy Associated Press
Tony Romo is finally healthy and now he’s got a running game, too. Throw in an opportunistic defense and a kicker who hasn’t missed since mid-September, and it’s clear the Dallas Cowboys are headed in the right direction.
Just ask the Buffalo Bills.
Facing the best team he’ll see for a month, Romo guided touchdown drives on his first four series, and Terence Newman returned one of his two interceptions for a touchdown, sending the Cowboys cruising past the Bills 44-7 on Sunday.
Dallas (5-4) won its second straight and could be starting a big surge. Not only were the Cowboys clicking in all phases Sunday, they’re going into a soft patch on their schedule. Their next three foes went into this weekend a combined 6-18.
“We needed a game like this,” tight end Jason Witten said. “This needs to be the foundation of what lies ahead for this team.”
The Cowboys scored their most points since Sept. 9, 2007, which was the first game that current coach Jason Garrett was coordinating the offense. They also enjoyed their most lopsided win since Oct. 22, 2000. This 37-point margin is bigger than any regular-season victory in Dallas with Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells or Barry Switzer on the sideline.
“I think that’s as good as we played against a team that’s credible,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “I think overall—the (run-pass) balance, feeling like we could create problems for their defense—I haven’t felt like that since Jason has been the head coach. It shows we are making improvement.”
Romo put Dallas ahead 21-0 by throwing touchdown passes of 34 yards to Dez Bryant(notes) and 58 and 5 yards to Laurent Robinson(notes). He hit his first 13 attempts and finished 23 of 26 (88.5 percent), setting the franchise record for single-game accuracy.
Romo didn’t lead any more touchdown drives after those first four possessions, but he also didn’t do anything to ruin what he’d built.
He had no interceptions and wasn’t sacked, doing both for a second straight week. Being error-free Sunday was especially noteworthy because he was facing the defense that leads the NFL in takeaways and had the second-most interceptions.
“We are learning a little bit about who we are and what we can do and what we are capable of doing,” Romo said.
Romo is clearly benefiting from the rapid development of rookie running back DeMarco Murray. He turned 20 carries into 135 yards and a touchdown and had 35 yards on six receptions. Murray was a concern of the defense all day, drawing enough attention to create open space for Romo in the secondary.
Murray also continued to show it’s going to take a lot of guys to stop him as he made several highlight-worthy moves—hurdling safety Jairus Byrd(notes) and, on another play, cutting back across the field to turn a likely loss into a 25-yard gain.
“They can’t load the box on us and they can’t double team wide receivers,” Murray said.
Another reason for Romo’s crisp performance: He’s finally over the broken rib he hurt in Week 2. This was the first game he played since then without a special vest for protection.
Buffalo (5-4) lost its second straight and third in four games. The rout made it an especially bitter homecoming for coach Chan Gailey and running back Fred Jackson. Gailey coached the Cowboys to the playoffs in 1998-99, his only two years on the job, and Jackson grew up in this suburb, at one time living on the property that’s now Cowboys Stadium.
Gailey said he told the Bills they did little right, but that he still believes in them.
“We will regroup and continue to work to get better,” Gailey said. “But you have to go do it. Nobody’s going to give you anything in this league.”
Ryan Fitzpatrick was 20 of 31 for 146 yards and a touchdown, a 3-yarder to David Nelson punctuated by Nelson presenting the ball to his girlfriend—a Cowboys cheerleader.
Fitzpatrick helped make Cowboys cheerleaders happy all afternoon. He threw a season-worst three interceptions and converted only 2 of 7 third-down attempts.
This was the second straight ugly outing for Fitzpatrick, who recently signed a $59 million, six-year contract.
“We put in some good practice time and really thought we’d come out here and play well,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s hard to even think ahead right now because of how embarrassing that loss was.”
Dallas’ defense was opportunistic from the start, with DeMarcus Ware sacking Fitzpatrick on Buffalo’s first offensive play. The Cowboys racked up four turnovers, including a fumble by Jackson. The local kid still had a productive day, gaining 114 yards on 13 carries.