Early on Saturday morning, NFL Network league insider Ian Rapoport tossed a grenade into a war zone by reporting from a source that the professional relationship between Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray was souring as a result of the quarterback’s predilection for audibling out of runs to throw passes.
Unsurprisingly, it’s actually become the theme of Romo’s season and if Rapoport’s report was accurate, Murray’s attitude was justified.
Entering Sunday, the Cowboys offense had the second-fewest rushing attempts per game of any team in the league. However, that reality was juxtaposed against Murray owning the second-highest yards per rush among all NFL running backs, while ranking 17th in carries per game.
Last weekend, while they held a commanding lead over Green Bay, the offense inexplicably eschewed its clock-killing strategy, which comprised of handing the ball off to a running back galloping for 7.4 yards a carry to run time off the clock for one that had Romo throwing an exorbitant amount of passes like he had contract incentives riding on it. It was deja vu from the week prior when the Chicago Bears took control in the third quarter after Murray received just one carry in the period.
Two fourth quarter interceptions and a 37-36 loss later, the plan backfired, giving former QB Jason Garrett a chance to flex his ability to toss Romo and offensive play caller Bill Callahan underneath the bus at the same time.
On Sunday, it appeared the Murray shunning was continuing. Never was it more apparent than during the second half when cameras caught Murray walking over to Garrett, mouthing something intensely along the lines of “I got this. Put the ball in my hands.” The only way he could have been more emphatic would have been for himself to rip out his own heart and hand it to Garrett for safekeeping. Garrett nodded, probably glanced at Murray’s seven yards a carry at the time, then had Callahan call three straight pass plays during a three and out on their next drive.
As the Cowboys trailed 23-17, Murray nearly justified their hesitance for giving him carries on the final drive by reversing field after getting stuffed at the 1-yard-line, running the wrong way and losing nine yards, to put offense in an obvious passing situation.
On 4th and goal from the 10 with 1:14 remaining, Romo darted forward long enough to freeze the linebacker spying him and Murray, hit Murray in the flat long the right sideline and watched him rumble forward into the end zone.
It was the first receiving touchdown of Murray’s career and went a long way towards smoothing over what would have been a tense locker room if the drive had not ended in a touchdown.
There’s a glass half-empty and a glass half-full way of looking at Sunday’s finish for the Dallas Cowboys.
The positive side simply wants to commend Romo for purging himself of his Week 15 demons.
However, the glass half-empty side of you always assumes Romo is setting his fans up to stand on top of a trap door where an X marks the spot.
He’s the villain who spends half an hour explaining his ingenious plot for world domination instead of just offing the protagonist. Meanwhile, Murray continues to get the stiff-arm from his offensive play callers. Garrett is the public face of Murray's offensive shunning, but Callahan was the one promoted by Jerry Jones to offensive play caller in the offseason, and he'll retain that duty entering the final week.
The Cowboys have had numerous opportunities to ground the Eagles indirectly. For the third Week 17 in a row, Romo will have his chance to clinch a playoff spot in the final regular season primetime matchup. Unfortunately, for the past two years, Romo has made it a habit of clocking out after Week 16.
To compound matters, the Philadelphia Eagles are coming.
If you saw their offense and defense flex all over Chicago, which thrashed Dallas on Monday Night Football two weeks ago, you'll see why that's a problem.
This shouldn’t be Romo’s game to win. Dallas should want their porous defense to line up against the Eagle's 24 second or less offense on as few possessions as they possibly can. Despite how desperate they are to prove that Romo was worth the $108 million contract, Dallas would be wise to keep their offense grounded and the clock ticking with the running back who leads all backs averaging over 10 carries per game in yards per rush.
The minus nine yard run by Murray set him back from 105 yards and five yards a carry to 96 and 4.4 per rush, but Murray did manage to become the first 1,000-yard back in seven years since Julius Jones was toting the rock in Big D. Just for clarification, that makes him the first time it's occurred in the Garrett era.
If Callahan insists on Romo airing it out with no regard for common sense, then in a strange way, it will actually disprove his former Raiders players, who believe he threw the Super Bowl. The crux of Jerry Rice's conspiracy theory was Callahan altering the gameplan just days before the big game from one that would grind it out against Tampa Bay's smaller defensive front seven to one that was heavy on the pass to presumably play right into Jon Gruden's hands.
He and Tim Brown gave Callahan too much credit as a Machiavellian saboteur. If history repeats itself a decade later, Callahan will just be remembered as a terrible game strategist and he'll be out of a job. He won't be alone.