Romo, Austin send Cowboys past Raiders 24-7
AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) – Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys had their way with the Oakland Raiders, piling up their most yards of the season and getting another solid performance from the defense.
Now comes the big challenge for the NFC East leaders: Keeping it up.
Dallas beat Oakland 24-7 on Thursday for its sixth win in seven games, guaranteeing it will remain atop the division going into the final month. Because Decembers have been such disasters for the Cowboys over the past decade-plus, they can only hope this performance indicates things will be different this season.
“I think we have a lot to prove – just for this season, though,” Romo said. “I don’t think any other season has any bearing whatsoever. For us, it’s strictly about right now and this next game. We’ll go from there.”
Despite a back injury sustained four days before, Romo threw for 309 yards. He got more than 100 yards receiving from each of his two favorite targets, Miles Austin and Jason Witten, and threw a touchdown to his highest-paid receiver, Roy Williams.
Dallas (8-3) also had nice balance with more than 60 yards each from running backs Felix Jones, Tashard Choice and Marion Barber.
The defense kept Oakland (3-8) from crossing midfield in the first half, crushing whatever good vibes the Raiders generated by a victory over the division-leading Bengals on Sunday. They got within 17-7 early in the second half on the first career touchdown catch by top draft pick Darrius Heyward-Bey, then hardly threatened again.
“Trying to win two games for us has been like trying to climb Mount Everest,” cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. “We haven’t been able to get any momentum going.”
Coming off two lousy offensive performances, the Cowboys more than made up for it.
They gained 494 yards, sparked by lots of big plays – five of at least 40 yards, and eight of at least 25; no NFL team had done that since New Orleans in October 2006.
Witten had his two longest catches of the season and his first 100-yard outing since last Thanksgiving, and he’d been questionable to even play because of a sprained left foot. Choice had a 66-yard run that was the club’s longest since 2006, Jones added a 46-yarder for a touchdown, and Romo was an efficient 18 of 29 with two touchdown passes and no turnovers.
Still, there were things to worry about, like turning all that into only 24 points because of penalties and converting only four of 12 third-down attempts.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Choice, whose big run came out of Dallas’ version of the wildcat formation. “A lot of things that we’ve messed up on we have to get better. We have to stay focused coming into December.”
The defense remains an overshadowed strong point. They went from giving up 68 yards rushing in the first quarter to just 56 the rest of the game, and linebacker Anthony Spencer had his first two sacks of the season. It was especially sweet for him because his predecessor, Greg Ellis, was watching from the Oakland sideline. Ellis made a few plays early but missed the second half because of swelling in his left knee.
Romo is 4-0 in Thanksgiving starts, but this is the time of year his golden touch turns to rust. He is 5-10 after Thanksgiving, counting two playoff losses. Last season, the Cowboys came out of the holiday at 8-4, then went 1-3 and missed the playoffs. The year before, when Dallas went 13-3, two of the losses came in December.
The Cowboys are going to have to earn their way into the playoffs as their final five games are against division leaders New Orleans and San Diego, plus division rivals New York, Philadelphia and Washington.
“I think you put yourself in position well before December,” Romo said. “You have to maintain a level of consistency, then you raise it up going into January – if you’re good enough to do that.”
Austin is one of Dallas’ new wrinkles this time around. The Cowboys’ 6-1 run coincides with the seven games he’s started.
Defenses had done a better job of smothering him in recent weeks, which might’ve lulled the Raiders into going with single coverage. He responded with seven catches for 145 yards and a 9-yard touchdown.
“I don’t think me having a great game means that we’re going to have a great game,” he said. “I would say it is all of us.”
Oakland quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was 18 of 35 for 200 yards and the 4-yard touchdown pass to Heyward-Bey. On that drive, Gradkowski was 5 of 5 for 69 yards, plus a 21-yard scramble, he just couldn’t keep it up.
“There were plays out there to be made early on. We didn’t make them,” Gradkowski said. “I take the blame. I missed a couple early throws on that would have given our team energy.”
Oakland’s powerful punter Shane Lechler failed in his bid to hit the overhead video board, in warmups or in his nine tries during the game.
NOTES: Dallas hadn’t had two 100-yard receivers since Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn in the 2006 finale. … This was the first time the Cowboys beat the Raiders at home. Oakland had been 3-0 in Dallas – well, Irving. Now the team plays in Arlington. … The stadium’s retractable roof was open for the first time since the opener. … Dallas kicker Nick Folk missed a field goal for the third straight game. … The Raiders hadn’t played on Thanksgiving since 1970.