Murray Certain to Top Smith's Mark but Has Already Proven His Toughness

Clarence Hill@clarencehilljrFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2014

NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray had his best game of the season just by being on the field against the Colts six days after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand.
NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray had his best game of the season just by being on the field against the Colts six days after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand.Tim Sharp/Associated Press

IRVING, Texas — By the numbers, running back DeMarco Murray had his worst game of the season in the 42-7 victory against the Indianapolis Colts.

The man who has set an historic pace as the NFL’s leading rusher all season had just 58 yards on 22 carries.

It was just the fourth time in 15 games he rushed for less than 100 yards and this was his fewest by 15 yards.

But numbers be damned.

It was also arguably Murray’s best performance of the season, per coach Jason Garrett and many of his teammates.

Murray played in the game six days after having surgery to repair a fractured bone in his left hand. Just his presence on the field was an inspiration and an example of the physical and mental toughness that has keyed the Cowboys’ run to the NFC East title.

“DeMarco’s performance by far was his best performance of the year in my mind,” Garrett said. “He’s had other games where the numbers are a little bit gaudier, more impressive, but just his mindset and his demeanor all week long and what that meant to our football team was really, really significant. I think it reflected in how we played as a football team. And he was amazing. He ran the ball in this game. He ran it tough. He ran it hard. He blocked in this game. They’re bringing safeties; he’s turning around and picking them up. I just thought he was fantastic, and I can’t tell you how meaningful that was to everybody else for him to have the mindset that he had.” 

Famed one-handed pitcher Jim Abbot won Twitter today with his tweet about DeMarco Murray VID: http://t.co/f7QpG1ObyM pic.twitter.com/KEG8l022MR

— 120 Sports (@120Sports) December 22, 2014

Murray had a plate and eight screws inserted to repair the fourth metacarpal on Monday. He didn’t practice last Wednesday and was limited Thursday and Friday. But there was never any doubt or any wavering that he would play in the game.

He played a season-low 31 snaps. But he was on the field to start the game and carried the bulk of the load, as usual, until he was pulled in the third quarter with the Cowboys up 35-0.

“Yeah it affected me a little bit,” Murray said. “It was hurting throughout the game but I made my mind up a long time ago that I was going to play. So I was happy to be out there, (and) happy to do whatever I can do to contribute to this team and it was awesome to win.”

Murray’s hard charges weren’t the difference-making plays for the Cowboys, as has been the case for much of the season. His dominant play on the ground has been the foundation to the team’s success.

But it was fitting that he was on the field and playing a contributing role in the game that clinched the NFC East title and the Cowboys’ first trip to the playoffs since 2009.

The Cowboys wouldn’t have gotten here without him. His mental and physical toughness typified the heart and soul that has carried this team to the top.

“It’s just unbelievable that he had surgery on Monday and is out here playing on Sunday,” Cowboys executive vice present Stephen Jones said. “If you can’t get motivated and fired up for what he’s about ... he’s a man through and through. I just admire the fact that he went out there, not only to go out there, went out there and played tough, played hard, and I think really inspired offense.”

It’s ironic that in a game in which Murray came 29 yards short of breaking Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith’s single-season team record for rushing yards for a season of 1,773 he did something Smith couldn’t do, while shedding forever the injury-prone label.

Smith broke the same bone in his hand in 1999 and missed a game. 

Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray had a metal plate and 8 screws inserted into left hand Monday. With same injury, Emmitt Smith had 6 screws.

— Brandon George (@DMN_George) December 17, 2014

Murray, who has been dogged by injury questions his entire career, not only played against the Colts one week after suffering the injury against the Eagles but will play against the Redskins next week in the final game of the season.

It will be the first time since being drafted in the third round out of Oklahoma in 2011 that he will play a full 16-game season.

But the record is of no major concern to Murray. It’s about winning and taking the next step toward the Super Bowl.

“It’s a steppingstone to what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said.

Murray has already locked up the NFL rushing title with 1,745 yards on a league-high 373 carries.

He is almost certain to break Smith's record and finish off the best year for a running back in franchise history in the season finale. He will play in the game, but the record won’t be the focus.

“And it’s not important to DeMarco either,” Garrett said. “It’s all about winning. It’s all about what’s best for our football team. Now, those two things coincide. It’s good for our football team when DeMarco is running the ball well and we control the game by running the football. That’s been a formula for success for us all year long so we’ll certainly try and do that this week. But the idea that we’re going to get a player some kind of statistic; it’s not really part of our thinking.”

Clarence Hill covers the Cowboys for the 
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. All quotations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.