Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 12/12/11
ARLINGTON, Texas The Cowboys lost running back DeMarco Murray in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Giants. By the fourth quarter, they were sorely missing him. Not that backup Felix Jones didn't play well in Murray's absence. Jones rushed for 106 yards on 16 carries. But he couldn't be counted on to put away the Giants when the Cowboys were clinging to a late lead. Well, at least the Cowboys didn't count on him. That's not a good sign as the Cowboys, now 7-6 and tied with New York for the NFC East lead, enter the final three games of the season. The telling moment came when the Cowboys took possession with 3:14 left and were holding on to a 34-29 lead. The Cowboys needed to run out the clock. They needed first downs. They needed a running game. First down was a five-yard carry by Jones, a great start. But on second down, Jones was stuffed for no gain. Because Jones couldn't get a yard, running the ball on the next play became a risk. Third-and-four is a makeable running down. Third-and-five is a passing down in the NFL. So instead of loading up behind rejuvenated fullback Tony Fiammetta and grinding for a first down, quarterback Tony Romo heaved a deep pass down the right sideline to Miles Austin. Austin had beaten his man, but the pass was beyond his reach. "It was an all-out blitz, and we had exactly what we wanted. There was no safety help," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "We missed the throw, and it didn't work out for us." The Cowboys were forced to punt, giving the Giants 2:12 to drive for the game-winning touchdown. Which they did. The 37-34 loss all but assures that the Cowboys will have to beat the Giants in New Jersey on the last game of the season to make the playoffs. The winds don't swirl at MetLife Stadium like they did at the old Meadowlands, but there probably won't be ideal conditions for throwing the ball on Jan. 1. Cold weather means running the ball, and the Cowboys just lost their best runner. Murray was lost for the season although the Cowboys haven't used that exact phrase when he was tackled after an 8-yard carry with 4:54 left in the first quarter. Two people had to help him off the field and he went straight to the X-ray room underneath Cowboys Stadium. The diagnosis was a right ankle fracture, with a right ankle sprain thrown in for good measure. Murray was the Cowboys' leading rusher coming into the game with 872 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie from Oklahoma took over the starting job at mid-season when Jones suffered his own ankle injury, then promptly broke the franchise rushing record with 253 yards against the Rams. He followed that performance by rushing for 74, 139 and 135 yards in his next three games. By then, the Cowboys didn't even need to announce that Murray had taken over the starting job. It was obvious. If there was a silver lining Sunday, it was that Jones probably ran better than he has all season. For once, he ran with vision, bounced to the outside and made people miss. Jones has always had amazing straightaway speed, but in most of his NFL career he has only looked like a first-round pick (22nd overall in 2008) when he is in open space. Perhaps a little of Murray's combination of power and vision has rubbed off on Jones. Sunday's game was the third 100-yard rushing day of his career. "I thought he did a really good job, obviously, stepping in," Garret said. "He was going to be a complementary player for us behind DeMarco, or with DeMarco, and he had to take a primary load . . ..He was productive throughout the game." Until this season, Jones split carries with Marion Barber. After the Cowboys released Barber, Jones was given a chance to be the primary back this season, but lost that gig to Murray. Now, the Cowboys look to Jones to help lead them to a playoff berth. That's a big load for someone the Cowboys have decided is a complementary player. If Jones wants to shed that label, this is his shot. Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire
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