In a heartbreaking Monday night loss to the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was a bright spot for a team that struggled on both sides of the ball. But Murray also fumbled for the fifth time this season, and that turnover came on a play in which he was fighting for extra yards well after picking up a first down.
Watching intently as that happened was the greatest running back in Cowboys history, and Emmitt Smith then took to Twitter to send a somewhat cryptic message to a player trying to follow in Smith's Texas-sized footsteps:
But when asked about his latest cough-up after the game, Murray wouldn't give in to those who felt he should have quit while he was ahead on that 36-yard gain.
“I’m going to continue to play hard and fight for every inch,” Murray said, per ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon. “What happened, I’ve just got to just lock two hands on it. I’m going to continue to fight and run hard as I can to get us every inch and every yard I can, but I’ve just got to lock it up with two hands.”
OK, back to Emmitt.
"DeMarco is a grown man, he can handle it however he wants to handle it," Smith said in a follow-up discussion with Bleacher Report this week. "But at the same time, my message was not about giving up. It's about knowing when the journey is over. The football is the most important thing on the football field, and once you have the first down and have got all the yardage you can get, it's better to preserve the football than to try to get another inch."
Smith also pointed out that this wasn't just about ball security. Murray has in the past struggled with injuries and has dealt with an extremely heavy workload this season. He's on pace to carry the ball 412 times, which would be the second-highest total in NFL history.
With that in mind, he'd be smart to limit the potential damage in situations like those. In 13 years with the Cowboys, Smith missed just seven games, so he knows a thing or two about how to avoid injuries.
"I'm looking at the kid's actual health and what's happening," Smith said, "and the exposure that he's leaving himself open to by trying to take on two or three or four guys."
But Smith noted that he wasn't attempting to criticize, and was instead "trying to help him understand the game and the journey, and understand when that journey should be over."
"Because there is a time to fight," he said, "and there is a time not to fight."
What's also clear is the NFL's all-time leading rusher does not believe now is the time to discuss Murray's chances of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing yardage record. Murray's on pace to rush for 2,108 yards, which would be three yards north of Dickerson's mark, but Smith cautions that we're only halfway through the season.
"There's a whole lot of football to be played," said the Pro Football Hall of Famer. "We're jumping the gun so quick right now it's hilarious. I think we need to start thinking about those things once he gets a lot closer. It's like saying right now, 'Is this guy going to break your all-time leading rushing record and he's just about 10,000 yards in and has got about another 8,000 more to go.' Let's be patient."
For the same reason, Smith also wasn't ready to conclude that Murray is the best running back in the game right now.
"I think society has a tendency to jump on the bandwagon while the bandwagon is hot," he said. "To me, I think consistency over a period of time is a great indicator of whether or not a person is the best back in the league."
Smith caught up with Bleacher Report on Thursday to discuss Murray and the Cowboys, as well as the launch of his new "What Do You Do While You Brew" video campaign with Keurig. In order to highlight the company's new brewer and its one-minute preparation period, Smith and Bonnie Bernstein have teamed up to create a series of short videos—hosted by CampusInsiders.com—in which Smith tries to accomplish various tasks within that 60-second time frame.
But while he's become an active endorser and a celebrity outside of the football world, Smith continues to strongly support his Cowboys. He fiercely documented his reactions to Monday night's difficult loss to the Washington Redskins on Twitter, capping the evening with a sorrowful tweet regarding the hit that knocked quarterback Tony Romo from the game:
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.