DeMarco Murray had that look of determination Saturday night, as coach Jason Garrett put it.
The Dallas Cowboys coach meant the second half.
But he could have been talking about after the game, too.
Murray walked to the locker room without a movement on his face, looking straight ahead, his shoulder pads already off. It looked like he was staring right at Sept. 8 against the New York Giants.
For sure, he was not sticking around AT&T Stadium after the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals to talk to reporters about his first-half benching. What was he going to say? Message received?
His actions in the second half had already said it.
Murray rushed eight times for 45 yards in a single drive and ended it with a 7-yard touchdown catch that blended elusiveness and power and had his teammates buzzing after he beat five defenders to the end zone.
“Man, that’s DeMarco Murray at his finest,” Phillip Tanner said.
“That’s Murray all day,” Dez Bryant said. “He brings that spark to this offense. He makes things look so easy. You just love him.”
What the Cowboys didn’t love was a first-half fumble. Murray put the ball on the ground on the second series, and Garrett pulled him. Tanner entered in his place, finished the first half, and Murray — a starter — suffered the embarrassment of going into the game in the second half after all the other first-team skill players had finished a satisfying first half with two long touchdown drives.
“He’s a pro, and he’s a damn good football player,” Garrett said, asked about Murray’s response — the eight carries and virtuoso touchdown on the third-quarter drive. “You can’t let not taking care of the football when you’re a running back diminish you as a player. And he’s just not going to do that. He’s not going to put the ball on the ground. I thought he responded well to it.”
Murray fumbled once as a rookie and three times last year. He had fumbles against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints last year in back-to-back games in December in the Cowboys’ late-season playoff drive. The fumble against the Saints was most costly — at the Cowboys’ 5-yard line in a tie game, leading to a go-ahead touchdown in the Saints win.
“The ball cannot be on the ground, and he understood why,” Garrett said. “We talked to him about it, and I thought he responded well to it. ... He had a determined look on his face and that’s a good thing.”
Garrett’s decision made both him and Murray look good. It paid off.
Owner Jerry Jones was impressed.
“Frankly, he is just a man. He is a man,” Jones said of Murray. “There is no doubt in my mind, when challenged, he is going to step up and meet that challenge. He met it competitively. That was expected. ... I think it inspired the whole team.”
The move worked because Murray made it work.
And he didn’t get hurt.
Jones, with a wink and a smile, sent his own message.
“I’m glad he was able to do it and show everybody and not get nicked up,” Jones said. “It would be a different Jones if he was nicked up. I promise you that.”