Cowboys deliver a yuletide beating, win NFC East

Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten carries the ball to score a touchdown on a pass from Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in the third quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium. 

Tim Heitman/Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys somehow overcame playing in front of their home crowd with a resounding 42-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. This is no longer about trying to sneak in the backdoor of the playoffs, which had been the only hope in recent years. This Cowboys team has a legitimate chance to play deep into January… and perhaps beyond.

Winning the NFC East with a week to spare could give the Cowboys an opportunity to rest some players in Washington next Sunday. But owner/general manager Jerry Jones wasn’t ready to entertain that thought as he stood in the middle of the Cowboys’ locker room, flashing a giddy smile.

"I’m not a sitter, especially under these circumstances," Jones said. "I’m gonna act like an amateur and play it all. I want to win every first down."

The Colts, who’d already clinched their division, didn’t put up much of a fight. When they couldn’t execute a fake punt to a wide-open receiver (nice touch, Pat McAfee), the Cowboys were basically handed a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck never established any type of rhythm due to drops and saw his team fall behind 28-0 at the half.

Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray provided inspiration by playing with a broken left ring finger. He only managed 58 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, but his presence sent a strong message to his teammates. Tony Romo completed 13 of 14 passes for 155 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. He was able to sit out most of the fourth quarter.

"This day with DeMarco Murray is going to be one that I’ll never forget," Jason Garrett said. "The mindset and mentality that he had — starting in the locker room last week, on the plane ride, when I saw him the next day, after the surgery –€“ he just didn’t waver. It was with a look that was so determined that its impact on our football team was so strong."

The Cowboys (11-4) have already exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations. Even the eternal optimist, Jerry, said 2014 would be an "uphill climb" for this team. After Sunday’s win, I asked him if he felt like the Cowboys had as good a chance as any team in the NFC.

"We don’t have as impressive of combination of offense/defense as two other clubs," Jones said. "You have to look at Denver right now –€“ they look good offensively and defensively. Our offense I’d like to think is right there with the best offensive teams.

"We’re good enough to make up for defense with our offense, but we’re getting better defensively. I’d like to have Sean Lee come back for the playoffs. It’s Christmas, you can dream!" Jones talked like a man who’s found religion when it comes to building a team. He referred to having a lot of "no-name" players on the roster. And it’s not like losing players such as Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware have held the Cowboys back this season, although Jones second-guesses himself a bit on the latter player.

"I am so pleased that we’re able to do what we’re able to do without some off those premium players," Jones said. "The fact that we’re doing it with lesser players when it comes to numbers is a pretty good thing. This is the second youngest team in the NFL. That gets my attention a little bit on how to put this together."

It’s too early to think about how long this organization might be able to sustain this level of success. What we know is the Cowboys should be competitive against any of the teams they might face from the NFC. Maybe it’s a sign of Jerry’s confidence that he’s already thinking about how his team might stack up with the Broncos. And perhaps the other team he was referring to was New England. Given the Cowboys’ 7-0 record in road games, there’s really nothing to fear in these playoffs. 

In the aftermath of Sunday’s win, anything seemed possible with this team. There’s still the slim hope of securing a playoff bye, but that would require the Cardinals losing their final two games and the Seahawks losing next week to the St. Louis Rams.

The Cowboys have clinched a home playoff game with a week to spare. And for one afternoon, playing at home wasn’t so daunting.