Commentary

Boys buckle up, topple weaker rival

Against Oakland, Dallas prepares for December by learning to finish an inferior enemy

Updated: November 27, 2009, 2:51 AM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- If you want to be considered an elite team, or a team that is supposed to win its division, you beat inferior opponents.

The Dallas Cowboys are not an elite team, but they are a team trying to win the NFC East for the second time in three seasons.

Dallas is better -- much better -- than the Oakland Raiders, and proved it on Thanksgiving Day with a 24-7 victory.

It wasn't a perfect victory for the Cowboys, but it was one that pushed them to 8-3 overall and maintained their first-place hold in the NFC East.

The Cowboys had to finish a game like this strong because December -- the month that kills them -- is awaiting their arrival in a dark alley.

When it was time to close the show in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys outgained the Raiders 109-76 and outrushed them 50-5.

"I thought we did a very good job at the end of the game finishing," Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "That's something we talk about all the time. We pride ourselves on being good finishers as individual players. I thought we did a good job of that at the end of the game."

When the Raiders tried to take away the Cowboys' playmakers, the home team made the necessary adjustments.

Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha pressed wide receiver Roy Williams for most of the game, so quarterback Tony Romo found Miles Austin, who caught seven passes for 145 yards and one touchdown. If the Raiders tried to slow down the Cowboys' inconsistent running game, the offense used the backs in different ways.

Marion Barber had two catches for 41 yards, including a 42-yard reception. Tashard Choice had a 66-yard run the first time Dallas used the Razorback formation.

Tight end Jason Witten, playing with the sprained left foot, finally had a big game, with five catches for 107 yards.

On defense, Oakland tried to contain Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware by putting a tight end on him, then moving a guard his way to spread the line of scrimmage. Ware adjusted by lining up further from the tackle and tight ends to make it harder for those players to reach him.

The Cowboys adjusted to everything the Raiders tried. That's what good teams do.

"I thought the first half, we could have had more points," coach Wade Phillips said. "We made some mistakes. It seems like the penalties we had, although we didn't have very many penalties, the ones we had, stopped I think two drives. After that, we had real big plays and we just kept on."

The Cowboys can now worry about knocking off the New York Giants. December hasn't been kind to the Cowboys. Since 1999, the Cowboys are 17-29 in the year's last month. It's the only month in which the team doesn't have a winning record during this time span.

The schedule is daunting, with road games at New York, New Orleans and Washington. Dallas has lost 50 of its last 80 road games overall since 1999.

To prepare for December, the Cowboys made quick work out of Oakland.

"We are not trying to be a great December ballclub," Romo said. "That was not our goal at the beginning of the year. If we end up being a good one, good. That will be a bonus. I think there is something to be said for playing well if you're able to make it to the playoffs."

Calvin Watkins covers the Dallas Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at calvin.watkins@espn3.com.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.