5 moments that shaped the season
1 Jerry’s preseason message
Owner Jerry Jones didn’t set the bar too high at a kickoff luncheon, admitting the Cowboys faced an “uphill battle.” At the time, there were questions about Tony Romo’s surgically repaired back and a historically bad defense that didn’t get many upgrades.
2 Early-season comeback
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The Cowboys trailed the St. Louis Rams 21-0 early in Week 3 and could have easily abandoned the running game. But they didn’t. They stuck with their run-heavy scheme and wound up coming back for a 34-31 victory. It’s the first game that truly showed how run-heavy the Cowboys would be by using DeMarco Murray over and over again throughout the season.
3 Seattle shocker
This game put the Cowboys on the radar. Nobody knew what to make of their 4-1 start against suspect teams, but beating the defending champions on the road answered those questions. The Cowboys established themselves as contenders at that point; they gained more than 400 yards against one of the league’s top defenses.
4 Strong finish
For a while, it appeared the Cowboys could be a 10- or 11-win team that missed the playoffs. That’s how tight the race was at one point, particularly after losing to the Eagles on Thanksgiving Day. But the Cowboys went 4-0 in December, including an impressive road win at Philadelphia to reclaim control of the NFC East and then clinched it a couple weeks later by beating the Indianapolis Colts at home.
5 Postseason controversy
The Cowboys’ extended their season on a controversial call in the wild-card round, and saw it end on a controversial call in the divisional round. Against the Detroit Lions, the Cowboys benefited when the officials reneged on a pass interference call against Anthony Hitchens by waving it off. But, against the Green Bay Packers, they were on the other side when a catch by Dez Bryant was ruled incomplete.
Record-setters: Tony Romo passed Troy Aikman in Week 16, becoming the franchise’s all-time passing leader. Then, on the same series the following week at Washington, DeMarco Murray broke Emmitt Smith’s single-season rushing record and Dez Bryant broke Terrell Owens’ single-season receiving touchdown record.
Home loss to Washington: Tony Romo suffered two fractures in his back when he took a knee from Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson. Romo managed to return to the game, but missed the following week. More important, the Cowboys lost a game they should have won. It proved to be an important loss, too, as the Cowboys were the odd team out among the three NFC teams to finish 12-4 and didn’t receive a first-round bye.
Early-season crowds: With expectations so low when the season started, the Cowboys faithful didn’t show up in full force early. San Francisco, New Orleans and Houston had a noticeable contingent of fans at AT&T Stadium.
Zack Martin: Yes, he was a first-round pick, but he still exceeded expectations. He was the only rookie to earn All-Pro honors, and made a seamless transition from college to the NFL.
Anthony Hitchens: The fourth-round pick knew he’d have to grow up fast when Sean Lee was injured. He did just that, and also picked up more responsibilities when Justin Durant went down and Rolando McClain continually dealt with minor injury setbacks.
Rolando McClain: When he was on the field, he was a difference-maker. He brought a physical presence to the defense and shored up the middle linebacker spot. But injuries caught up with him down the stretch, and he didn’t have quite the impact the final month of the season, or in the postseason when he was sidelined with concussion-like symptoms.
Terrance Williams: He had a hot start before fading in the middle of the season. But Williams redeemed himself in the postseason by scoring a touchdown in each game and still showed flashes of being someone special.
Morris Claiborne: Another season, another injury for Claiborne. What can you say at this point? He hasn’t lived up to being a top-10 pick in the draft, and likely never will. Missing the 2014 season only served as another setback, and it’s time to wonder if he’ll ever make a positive impact on the team.
Gavin Escobar: Maybe it’s the offense. Maybe it’s being behind one of the better tight ends in the league. But Escobar has yet to live up to his draft status as a second-rounder. He’ll have his moments in the red zone and in passing situations, but is still a work in progress as a blocker. Will he reach his full potential here?
113.2 Tony Romo’s passer rating, the best in the NFL
1,845 DeMarco Murray’s rushing total, the most in the NFL and the Cowboys’ single-season record
16 TD receptions by Dez Bryant, setting the Cowboys’ single-season record
6 All-Pro selections (Murray, Bryant, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Tony Romo, Travis Frederick)
6 Pro Bowlers (Romo, Murray, Bryant, Smith, Martin, Frederick)
6 Sacks by Jeremy Mincey, most on the team
5 Interceptions by Bruce Carter, most on the team
7th Cowboys’ rank in total offense
29.2 Average points per game, fifth most in NFL
19th Cowboys’ rank in total defense
31 Takeaways by the defense, second most in the NFL
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760