- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- In a stunning development, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett benched starting running back DeMarco Murray in the first quarter after he fumbled against the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday.
Murray recovered his own fumble during a 2-yard run on the second possession of the game and stayed on the field, finishing the drive with a 7-yard catch on third down. When the Cowboys got the ball a third time, Murray was on the sideline and Phillip Tanner was in his place.
Murray wasn't hurt, and stood on the sideline with his helmet on and his hands on his hips.
"We took DeMarco out in the first half because he put the ball on the ground," Garrett said. "So we gave Phillip Tanner a chance to play with the [first team] in the first half then talked to DeMarco at halftime. We gave him a chance to play in the second half and I thought he did a good job of bouncing back."
Murray, who declined to speak to a reporter after the game, started the second half and finished the game with 51 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown reception. His two best plays were vintage Murray. He stiffed-armed Bengals defensive end DeQuin Evans on the way for a 15-yard run. And Murray made his best move of the game when he caught a short pass from backup quarterback Kyle Orton, spun past Dre Kirkpatrick, juked by safety Shawn Williams and slipped past linebacker J.K. Schaffer before landing on his back in the end zone as two more defenders converged on him.
The score gave the Cowboys a 21-10 lead with 2:57 to play in the third quarter. As Murray walked back to the sideline, most of his teammates slapped him five and Garrett gave him a half-hug.
"Just like you would expect, he's just a man," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said of Murray's response to the benching. "I mean, he's a man. There's no doubt in my mind, if challenged, he's going to step up and meet that challenge and he met it competitively and that was expected. And I'm sure everybody had in mind, you put the emphasis on turnover, that we would do a little extra if we got a turnover situation. I think it inspired the whole team. I was glad he was able to do it and show everybody and not get nicked up."
During training-camp practices, Garrett has pulled starters and backups for mental mistakes and gotten on players for physical mistakes as well. Last week, the Cowboys committed six turnovers in their loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Garrett said after the Arizona game that turnovers aren't championship football.
"Thought he did a good job. He’s a pro. He’s a damn good football player," Garrett said. "You can’t let not taking care of the football when you’re a running back diminish you as a player. And he’s just not going to do that. He’s not going to put the ball on the ground, and I thought he responded well to it."