IRVING, Texas — DeMarco Murray sped into the open field around right end, with a choice of taking on a defender or drifting toward the sideline.
So many times in his career, the bruising Dallas running back has turned upfield and lowered his head. Just not on this particular play Sunday against the New York Giants.
Murray easing up as he went out of bounds — he actually did it twice — led coach Jason Garrett to have a rare moment of candor by saying Murray “needs to finish runs better.”
Murray was mildly stirred by news of Garrett’s remark — but not shaken.
“No, it doesn’t bother me,” Murray said. “Not at all.”
Maybe that’s because Murray’s production in a 24-21 win over Giants was as good as any all season, and he’s on a bit of a roll heading into a Thanksgiving game against Oakland on Thursday.
It wasn’t his best statistical day — that would be the 175-yard game against St. Louis, his only 100-yard day of the season. But the 6.1-yard average on 14 carries (86 yards) was second only to his dominance of the Rams.
Throw in the cold and wind on New York’s home field, in contrast to the room-temperature comfort of the Cowboys’ $1.2 billion stadium when he played St. Louis, and it just might have been Murray’s best day of the season.
“I thought it was good,” Murray said. “I thought the offensive line blocked well. Hopefully we can continue to do that.”
Let one thing be clear: Garrett wasn’t questioning his running back’s toughness. He was probably just as surprised as anyone to see the key to his running game choose comfort over contact.
“It’s not cowardly,” Garrett said. “He’s the furthest thing from that. Just watch the rest of the game. Sometimes you make a judgment about how you see a situation and make a decision. When you re-evaluate it on tape, you think, ‘Maybe I could’ve done something different.’ Those plays happen fast. You have to make a decision quickly.”
For his part, Murray says he basically felt trapped and figured it was the smart thing to do. He’s missed games because of injuries in all three of his seasons, so the next thought is maybe he’s trying to protect himself.
Wrong, he says.
“I never think about that,” said Murray, who has 634 yards, four touchdowns and a shot at his first 1,000-yard season if he stays healthy. “Like I said, I think maybe that’s my first time doing that. So I don’t see it as a big deal.”
Murray shattered an ankle when a defender fell on his foot making a tackle seven weeks after the rookie had set a franchise record with 253 yards rushing in his first game as the primary back in 2011.
Last year, Murray was on his way to a huge day in Baltimore when he sprained a foot late in the first half. He missed six games, then missed two more this year after spraining a knee ligament against Washington in Week 6.
Now Murray’s coming off back-to-back games of at least 80 yards for the first time since consecutive 100-yard outings his rookie season. And he’s averaging nearly 6 yards per carry in his past two starts.
Maybe he’s not saving himself for the next play, but the numbers say Murray isn’t hurting himself by sidestepping contact from time to time.
“Maybe that’s not a dumb thing to do,” Garrett said. “We just sit here with coaches and say couple of those you could’ve been more physical and aggressive with. He was physical and aggressive throughout the game and played a good football game for us. He was a big part of our success for the game.”
Even if he didn’t quite finish all his runs.