IRVING -- The best thing about this season for DeMarco Murray is it's not last season. When the Dallas Cowboys played at the Giants in a winner-take-all game to end the 2011 season, their starting running back was sitting at home with his leg elevated.
"It's always stressful not being out there with your teammates and not playing, no matter if it's preseason, practice or anything," said Murray, who missed the final three games of his rookie season with a fractured right ankle. "For me as a competitor and how much I love this team and love football, it's hard to watch. Just being out here, I'm blessed and thankful."
The Cowboys play a winner-take-all game against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, and Murray hopes to be the difference. He missed the Thanksgiving Day loss to the Redskins with a foot injury, and the Cowboys also were without left tackle Tyron Smith and center Ryan Cook.
Dallas fell behind the Redskins 28-3 in the second quarter and ran the ball only 11 times in the 38-31 loss.
It tied the team record for second-fewest attempts in a game, only one more than the franchise low. (The Cowboys also had only 11 carries last week against the New Orleans Saints.)
"I think this helps everybody being back and having a rhythm and having consistency," Cowboys offensive coordinator Bill Callahan said. "I think it's obviously an advantage and is a little bit better than what we were going into [the first Redskins game]."
The Cowboys are on pace to tie the franchise record for fewest carries in 16-game season (355) and on pace to set a team record for fewest rushing yards in a 16-game season. They have only 1,165 rushing yards, fewer than nine NFL running backs have this season.
Murray has only one 100-yard game, and that came in the season-opening victory over the Giants. He missed six games in the middle of the season with a sprained foot.
With a forecast calling for a high of 37 and a low of 27 in Landover, Md., and facing a quarterback in Robert Griffin III who threw four touchdowns against their defense five weeks ago, the Cowboys need to run the ball as well as they have all season.
"To be successful, I think you've got to be able to run the ball," Murray said. "You don't want to be one-dimensional. You want to open up the passing game, help with the play-action pass and things like that.
"We're not worried about anything else or trying to keep them off the field. We're just trying to help the offense make plays, play good situational football. Running the football is going to be a key for this game."
Murray has 25 carries for 121 yards and one touchdown the past two games combined. He also has cost his team points.
Murray, who had no fumbles in the first 288 carries of his career, has two lost fumbles over his last 20 carries. His first occurred at the Pittsburgh 8-yard line, denying the Cowboys points, and the second happened at the Dallas 5, leading to a New Orleans touchdown.
"We have a tremendous amount of confidence in DeMarco," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "He's done a lot of really good things for us. We're going to hand him the ball and give him every opportunity. He knows more than anybody else the importance of ball security. He's had a couple [of fumbles] the last couple weeks.... That really led to points and took points away from us. He knows that better than anybody else.
"He's carried the ball a lot in his life, and he understands the importance of securing it and making sure he can be a reliable guy that way. We'll give him some chances, though. There's no doubt about that."
Murray isn't worried about his foot, his fumbles or the turf at FedExField, which can be soft.
"I just try to play hard, try to play fast," Murray said.