DeMarco Murray, Cowboys thump Bears to clinch winning season
CHICAGO — Tony Romo has bigger goals for the Dallas Cowboys, so he wasn’t about to get too excited over securing a winning season.
To him, that was just one step.
DeMarco Murray ran for a season-high 179 yards and a touchdown, Romo threw for three scores, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 41-28 on Thursday night.
The Cowboys (9-4) made it look easy for most of the night against a struggling team that lost star receiver Brandon Marshall to a rib injury. Dallas clinched its first winning season since 2009 and guaranteed it will finish above .500 after three straight 8-8 finishes. But the Cowboys are looking for more, with an NFC East title and first playoff appearance in five years in sight.
“Other than the fact we still have all our goals in front of us,” Romo said when asked about clearing the eight-win mark. “I think that that’s more for you guys to do your 8-8 stuff.”
Led by Romo and Murray, Dallas rebounded from a blowout loss to the Eagles on Thanksgiving and pulled within a half-game of them with another showdown looming in Philadelphia next week.
The Cowboys took a 14-7 halftime lead and scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter before the Bears (5-8) rallied in the fourth.
With that, the Cowboys improved to a league-best 6-0 on the road, where they have won seven straight since a blowout loss at Soldier Field on a bone-chilling night last December.
Romo, who has been bothered by a bad back, kept checking down and completed 21 of 26 passes for 205 yards. His rating for the game was 138 coming off a rough outing against the Eagles.
Murray, the league’s leading rusher, carried 32 times. He also had 49 yards receiving on nine catches.
“Like a lot of great backs through the years in this league, oftentimes these guys get better the more touches they get,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I think he’s demonstrating that. He just has such a good feel for running the football.”
Dez Bryant had six receptions for 82 yards. Cole Beasley caught two touchdowns, and the Cowboys converted seven of 14 third downs along with two of two fourth downs.
For the Bears, it was just another rough night in a disappointing season that likely will end with them missing the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years.
“This team competes hard every day to get better, and it competes hard in the football game,” coach Marc Trestman said. “That would be totally disrespecting our football team to think they’re not going out and competing as hard as they can.”
Marshall’s injury was another blow for the Bears.
He was hurt by a knee to the right side from the Cowboys’ Barry Church following a reception in the second quarter. That happened moments after he made a spectacular 42-yard catch, juggling the ball with his right hand, to help set up a touchdown.
TV cameras showed him leaving Soldier Field in an ambulance, and Marshall later posted on Twitter, “Thanks for the Prayers. .. I’m Good. #MindOverMatter.”
Jay Cutler was 32-of-46 for 341 yards and two touchdowns. Martellus Bennett had a career-high 12 receptions for 84 yards against his former team, but the Bears had trouble sustaining drives.
They also did not get much from the run game after managing just eight attempts in the loss at Detroit a week earlier. Matt Forte had 13 carries for 26 yards after tying a career low with five rushes against the Lions.
“You just want to be in it at the end (of the season),” Cutler said. “Unfortunately throughout the year we’ve done some things to not give ourselves a chance, and we’re upset about that.”
Murray accounted for 105 yards during a busy first half for Dallas, running for 65 and a touchdown and adding 40 receiving. Romo kept checking down and completed 17 of 21 passes for 123 yards, including a 13-yarder to Beasley in the closing seconds.
That sent the Cowboys to the locker room with a 14-7 lead, and they added to it in the third quarter.
Romo connected with a leaping Beasley for a 24-yard TD early in the quarter after Anthony Spencer stripped Forte near midfield following a screen pass, making it 21-7. The Cowboys increased their lead to 21 minutes later when Romo found Gavin Escobar in the back of the end zone, a 43-yard catch by Bryant setting up that score.
Joseph Randle added a 17-yard TD run late in the quarter to make it 35-7.
Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent played for the first time this season after serving a 10-game suspension and being held out for two more following his intoxication manslaughter conviction.
He hadn’t played since Dec. 2, 2012, six days before the drunken-driving crash that killed teammate Jerry Brown.
“I’ve been blessed to be put back in this position, and I’m gonna take advantage of it,” Brent said.
Beasley, who entered the league in 2012, went into the game with just three career TD catches. … The Bears held out kicker Robbie Gould (right quadriceps) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff (knee). … Chicago S Chris Conte left the game in the third quarter with a back injury.
*Photo courtesy of Joe Robbins/Getty Images