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IRVING, Texas (AP) — DeMarco Murray reversed field and sprinted around right end for the first down, sliding just before the sideline with the Cowboys running out the clock during their win at Tennessee.
The play in the fourth quarter Sunday said a lot about Murray and the Cowboys' sudden fascination with the running game. It was his career-high 27th carry, which means the Cowboys kept giving him the ball and counted on him to make the smart play after he lost a fumble early for the second straight game.
Murray finished with 29 carries for 167 yards in a 26-10 victory marked by 43 running plays from the Cowboys, their most since a win at Indianapolis in late 2010. He entered Monday leading the NFL with 285 yards.
"I think he is a star on the rise and I think that is something that he is going to continue to have to work on, protecting the football," tight end Jason Witten said. "But when he has that type of game, I hate to even talk about that. That is a big game for us, and just the demeanor that we want to have as a football team."
The Cowboys (1-1), who finish a two-game road swing at St. Louis on Sunday, stuck with the running game in the season-opening loss to San Francisco even after falling behind 28-3 at halftime. Playing from ahead against the Titans, the show of force was more dramatic behind an offensive line with three first-round picks from the past four drafts.
When Dallas decided the lead was safe and sent Murray to the bench, Lance Dunbar got three straight carries for another first down. The 220 yards rushing were the most for the Cowboys in almost two years. Tony Romo's offense suddenly looks like a run-first attack.
"Obviously, we featured the running game," coach Jason Garrett said. "Tony was more of a complementary player, but I think he played a good game for us."
It's not often that Romo is described that way for a team that has leaned heavily on him through eight years as the starter.
And Romo still looks like he's trying to regain his old form coming off surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back. The December procedure was the second on his back in eight months.
But the Cowboys might also be trying to recapture the Super Bowl-winning formula from the 1990s, when Garrett was a backup quarterback and Emmitt Smith was on his way to becoming the league's all-time rushing leader.
That's the most interesting part of Murray's fast start. He's the first Dallas back since Smith in 1999 to start the season with consecutive 100-yard games. The only other Cowboys player to do it? Tony Dorsett, another Super Bowl winner.
"It's still early and we have a lot of work to do," Murray said. "We are heading in the right way though."
Things aren't likely to change against the Rams. Murray set a franchise record with 253 yards against them in his first game as a featured back his rookie season.
His career high in carries before the Tennessee visit was 26 against St. Louis last season, when he ran for another 175 yards in his only other game against the Rams.
"I think we ran the ball a lot of different ways against a good defensive front, but certainly when DeMarco had the ball in his hands, he was a dominant runner," Garrett said. "There's no question in my mind about that."
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