By Clarence E. Hill Jr. Fort Worth Star-Telegram
ARLINGTON, Texas — It took a little longer than expected.
But momentum has finally found its way to the Dallas Cowboys.
A 31-24 victory over the Oakland Raiders, thanks to a suffocating 17-0 second-half surge to overcome a 21-14 halftime deficit, has the Cowboys’ train full of steam and ready for a December push to the playoffs.
The Cowboys (7-5) are two games over .500 for the first time since last December and have a half-game lead over the Philadelphia Eagles (6-5) for first place in the NFC East with four games to go.
“We just need to win some games, stack wins and see where you are at the end,” Dallas quarterback Tony Romo said. “Today was an important game. It was a big win for us. We had to have that.”
DeMarco Murray rushed for three touchdowns in the win in front of a crowd of 87,572 at AT&T Stadium on Thursday evening.
Murray finished with 63 yard on 17 carries. Lance Dunbar added 82 yards on 12 carries before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a left knee sprain.
“Lance did a nice job. He found a way to work his way through the holes, He’s small, but he falls forward. He’s a guy who can come in and give you a spark,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “I thought DeMarco ran very well.
“This was one of our better running games we’ve had all year.”
Romo, who was ill Wednesday night and sick when the game started, passed for 225 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.
“It was a bug or something. It started Wednesday night,” Romo said.
The defense shut down the Raiders in the second half, allowing only a field goal and getting an end zone interception by Brandon Carr.
In was a odd beginning for the Cowboys.
Rookie Terrance Williams, replacing the injured Dwayne Harris, fumbled the opening kickoff after being hit by Kaelin Burnett. Greg Jenkins scooped up the ball and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown.
Twelve seconds into the game, Oakland led 7-0.
“That’s not a good thing,” Garrett said. “That’s an adversity you have to overcome.
From there, the game settled with five punts, including Chris Jones’ kick that was fair caught by Jennings at the 6.
On the next play, Oakland quarterback Matt McGloin fumbled the snap and Dallas’ Kyle Wilber recovered at the Raiders’ 2.
On the next play, Murray ran in the touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 with 43 seconds left in the quarter.
The Raiders drove 79 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown. Jennings scored on a 1 yard run to put Oakland back in front 14-7.
Oakland converted four third downs on the 5 minute, 30 second drive, including Jennings’ touchdown run.
After forcing a punt, the Raiders went on another time-consuming scoring drive.
Oakland drove 50 yards in 12 plays using 7 minutes, 46 seconds.
Jennings scored on his second 1-yard run to make it 21-7 with 1:56 left in the half.
Similar to the previous scoring drive, Oakland converted three first downs on the drive.
Dallas went into its hurry-up offense and it paid off.
Romo completed five of seven passes to move the Cowboys to the Oakland 4.
On second-and-goal from the 4, Murray scored on a draw play to make it 21-14 with 10 seconds left.
The drive covered 73 yards in eight plays with Murray’s TD being the only running play.
“That was a good sequence for us,” Garrett said. “It kind of changed the momentum.”
Oakland received the second-half kickoff, but were forced to punt.
Dallas countered with a 10-play, 87-yard drive that took 6:03.
The touchdown came on a 4-yard pass from Romo to Dez Bryant to tie the game at 21-21 at the 5:26 mark.
After forcing another punt, Dallas kept the pressure on Oakland.
Dallas drove 65 yards for another touchdown. Murray got his third score of the day, from 7 yards out, to put Dallas ahead 28-21 with 14:20 left in the game.
The nine-play, 65-yard drive took 5 minutes, 20 seconds.
“Anytime you can run the ball, it’s makes things efficient,” Romo said. “Having a 1-2 punch allows us to do some different things.”
Oakland finally made a stop on Dallas and forced a punt, but would turn the ball over three plays later when Brandon Carr intercepted McGloin in the end zone with 8:39 left in the game after the Raiders had reached the Cowboys’ 20.
“Just keep playing. Cornerbacks are isolated on an island. He (Carr) kept battling and made a play in the end zone,” Garrett said.
Dallas began working on the clock with its running game, alternating carries between Murray and Dunbar until Dunbar was injured at the 5:33 mark on a first down run at the Oakland 49.
Dunbar didn’t return, but Murray took over, carrying the ball on five of the next eight plays.
On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Dan Bailey made a 19-yard field goal to give Dallas a 31-21 lead with 1:56 left in the game.
Oakland worked its way to the Dallas 27 then decided to kick a 45-yard field goal on second down.
Sebastian Janikowski’s kick made it 31-24 with 35 seconds left.
On the onside try, Jeff Heath recovered the ball at the Raiders’ 42 and Dallas ran out the clock.
“We got in a hole early. After that, our offense, defense and special teams played well the rest of the way,” Romo said.