With each passing game and win, the Dallas Cowboys are starting to get an old familiar look, making it hard for fans not to start thinking back to the future and a possible Super Bowl run for the first time since 1995.
It has been a long time since then, and there’s a long time to go before any “super” dreams can be realized, but the run-oriented philosophy behind a dominant offensive line is the same now as it was then.
And so are the key figures.
Quarterback Tony Romo, running back DeMarco Murray and receiver Dez Bryant are serving as the new Triplets, doing what Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin did so many years ago.
It was never more evident than in Sunday’s 31-21 victory against the New York Giants before 91,028 fans at AT&T Stadium.
Romo, Murray and Bryant led the Cowboys (6-1) to their sixth consecutive win to remain the hottest team in the NFL, with the best record in the league. The Arizona Cardinals, the Denver Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles are 5-1.
Murray rushed 28 times for 128 yards and a touchdown, surpassing Hall of Famer Jim Brown to become the first player in NFL history to start a season with seven consecutive 100-yard games.
Romo completed 17 of 23 passes for 279 yards with touchdowns of 15 and 26 yards to tight end Gavin Escobar and 18 yards to Terrance Williams.
Bryant caught nine passes for 151 yards, including seven for 136 in the second half.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who was backup quarterback on the 1993 and 1995 Super Bowl- season teams, lives in the present, but couldn’t deny that the play of Romo, Bryant and Murray “harkens you back” to the 1990s Triplets.
“We don’t like to compare things. Those are great teams. They were some of the best teams in the history of the National Football League,” Garrett said. “There was a good formula for playing winning football back then, being able to run the football and spreading it around. That’s certainly an objective of ours.”
“It harkens you back. It harkens you back,” Garrett later added with a smile during a private moment in the locker room.
The comparison wasn’t lost on owner Jerry Jones, who is enjoying the team’s 6-1 record and six-game winning streak, the longest for the Cowboys since 2007.
“I think our record is above what we could have expected, but we have it and it’s a credit to a team that’s building in their confidence,” Jones said.
Jones credits the new Triplets for laying the foundation for the Cowboys’ success in 2014, just as Aikman, Smith and Irvin did in the 1990s.
“They are great. They’re making great plays at significant times for us,” Jones said. “That certainly was what Michael, Emmitt and Troy did. In that sense, that’s got everything to do with why we’re 6-1.”
Now, as then, the foundation to the Cowboys’ success is the running game. Murray’s historic success behind the best offensive line in football can’t be understated.
“Jim Brown is probably one of the greatest running backs ever to play this game,” Murray said. “I have a lot of respect for what he’s done. Like I said, I’m excited about the win. That’s a great accomplishment for us as a team. I got to give credit to those guys, the O-line, the tight ends and receivers blocking downfield.”
It’s certainly a team thing for the Cowboys, as Murray’s success opens up everything else for an offense that produced 423 total yards, marking the fourth consecutive game with 400 or more yards, tying the longest streak in team history, set in 1976.
Romo missed on just six passes, while fashioning a passer rating of 135.7. His only interception was due to a slip by Bryant in the second quarter.
Romo sizzled on third down as the Cowboys converted nine of 14 to continue a season-long trend. The Cowboys are No. 1 in the NFL in converting third downs one year after being ranking last in the league in the same category.
“The one thing that stands out to everybody is that we are running the ball,” Romo said. “But I think a big part of that is that this is the best we have ever been on third down. That is really changing the game. It is our ability to stay patient and run the ball over and over again. When you run the ball, you can keep those third-down yards to a minimum.”
Bryant didn’t catch any touchdown passes as Romo hit Escobar and Williams for the scores, showing the Cowboys have a diversity of players similar to the team of the 1990s that also made key plays to Alvin Harper, Kevin Williams, Jay Novacek.
But Bryant’s importance in the trio can’t be denied, especially his second-half play that was driven by the first-half slip and subsequent interception.
Bryant had a 44-yard catch to set up the 26-yard touchdown pass to Escobar, giving the Cowboys a 21-14 lead in the third quarter.
His 24-yard catch to the 1-yard line set up Murray’s run to make the score 28-14 in the fourth quarter.
And after the Giants made the score 28-21 with 5:28 left, Bryant helped the Cowboys ice the game.
He had two catches for 23 yards to complement 27 yards by Murray on the final drive, setting up the 49-yard field goal by Dan Bailey to put the game out of reach.
Bryant declined to get caught up in the “new Triplets” conversation because he said the Cowboys have more to accomplish.
“It’s still the beginning of the season,” Bryant said. “I’m not trying to make any statements like that. We’re just grinding. We’re just working.”
The new Triplets have the Cowboys thinking back to the future and a possible Super Bowl run.