Spark returns for Dallas Cowboys offense, playoff hopes

ARLINGTON -- Any talk of the Dallas Cowboys making a playoff run before the season centered on the enormous possibilities of an offense that could be as explosive as any in the league.

With quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten, running back DeMarco Murray and game-breaking receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, what was there to argue?

Of course, then the season began and the offense, plagued by injuries to Murray, shoddy line play and too many mistakes by Romo and his receivers proved to be nothing more than a disappointing tease and was at the root of the team's season-long struggles.

But Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium, fans finally got to see what all the fuss was about in a 38-33 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles in front of a crowd of 81,851.

Romo led the way with a near flawless performance, completing 22 of 27 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the second half when he was perfect 10 for 10 in rallying the Cowboys from deficits of 17-10, 24-17 and 27-24.

Romo also surpassed Troy Aikman as the team's all-time leader in touchdown passes.

Witten caught six passes for 108 yards. Bryant had 98 yards receiving and touchdowns of 23 and 6 yards. Austin had a 27-yard score, his first since Oct. 21.

Murray, who has missed the past six games with a sprained foot, opened things up in the passing game with 83 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.

One day, Romo will appreciate surpassing Aikman's record. But right now he is focused on keeping the Cowboys fledgling playoff hopes alive.

"It's about winning the game," Romo said. "That gets put aside. We are in the middle of the playoff picture. We had to have this one. It's a neat thing I will look back on one day."

The Cowboys (6-6) remain a long shot to make the playoffs. And they have done little to prove that they can string together consecutive good games let alone finish the season with five consecutive wins to guarantee a postseason berth -- especially with a defense playing as bad as it did against an Eagles offense that was minus starting quarterback Michael Vick, leading rusher LeSean McCoy and leading receiver DeSean Jackson.

Blame the absence of five defensive starters. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff missed his second straight game with injury to go along with linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter, safety Barry Church and defensive end Kenyon Coleman, who are lost for the season. That doesn't include nickel back Orlando Scandrick, who is out indefinitely with a fractured wrist.

Still, coach Jason Garrett said injuries are not an excuse and the Cowboys must do better than they did against Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles and rookie running back Bryce Brown.

Foles completed 22 of 34 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown, while Brown nearly led them to victory with 169 yards and two touchdowns before a late fumble killed the Eagles' best comeback hopes.

After Bryant's 6-yard score put the Cowboys up 31-27, nose tackle Josh Brent knocked the ball loose from Brown.

Rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.

"It was a huge play in the game," Garrett said. "We had a lot of different guys playing on defense and guys are trying to battle through. They were able to move the ball consistently. We don't talk about injuries. We need to play better."

Certainly this was already a ruined season for the Eagles (3-9), who have lost eight straight games.

The Cowboys are behind the Chicago Bears (8-4) and Seattle Seahawks (7-5) for final wild-card playoff spots and would lose to both in tiebreakers because of head-to-head losses.

They trail the New York Giants (7-4) by 1 1/2 games in the NFC East.

It could drop to one game if the Giants lose to the Washington Redskins (5-6) tonight.

Clarence E. Hill Jr.


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