The Cowboys and Dolphins playing on Thanksgiving will forever conjure memories of the 1993 game. Dallas defensive lineman Leon Lett adding to his blunderful reputation by sliding across ice and snow to bring alive a dead ball, setting up Miami for the winning kick as time ran out.
With Lett now part of the Cowboys’ coaching staff, and Snickers pushing a lighthearted “Forgive Leon” campaign, that tale seemed likely to be the most exciting storyline for another holiday meeting between the clubs.
Nope. Nostalgia has been shoved to the sideline because the game itself is shaping up as a good one.
Both teams go in having won three straight. For the Cowboys, it’s meant a rise into a tie for first place in the NFC East, and a chance to take over sole possession at least until the Giants play Monday night. For the Dolphins, it’s flushed away the dread from an 0-7 start and replaced it with the invaluable commodity of hope. Matt Moore has shown he could be the club’s long-sought solution at quarterback and the defense has gone 12 straight quarters without giving up a touchdown.
No wonder there’s so much dancing on the Miami sideline.
“I’ll tell you what,” said Dolphins linebacker Jason Taylor, who was the runner-up on “Dancing With The Stars” in 2008, “you keep winning, you keep making plays, you can do anything you want.”
Dallas and Miami have played four times since Lett’s unthinkable gaffe, which came 10 months after an equally stunning, though nowhere near as punitive, mistake in the Super Bowl. The Dolphins and Cowboys have even met on Thanksgiving twice since then.
Yet this is their first meeting since the Dolphins have turned into Cowboys East, with their general manager, coach, quarterback and five more players having been with Dallas first, most going directly from one club to the other.
“We know there are a lot of guys who have Dallas ties — `the Cowboy club,'” Miami safety Yeremiah Bell said. “But they’re Dolphins now. We want to make sure we go there and give them a good showing on Thanksgiving.”
Moore is among the club within the club, having signed with Dallas as an undrafted rookie in 2007. He impressed players and coaches in training camp, but the club took the risk of trying to get him through waivers and onto the practice squad. It didn’t work. Carolina snagged him and he started 13 games over three years. Ties from his Dallas days steered him to Miami this season as a backup to Chad Henne. Then Henne got hurt and the 27-year-old Moore got him another chance to prove himself.
He’s gotten better every week. Miami went from a blowout loss to a pair of narrow defeats to wins by 28, 11 and 33 points. He has six touchdowns and one interception during the winning streak, showing how well he’s clicked with his coordinator and teammates.
“I’m not a GM, but if I was, he’d still be here,” Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said. “I’ll never forget, when he was on scout team, he used to light us up. Now he’s getting his confidence. He’s definitely a formidable opponent.”
Part of the reason the Cowboys gambled on losing Moore was they already had their answer at quarterback in Tony Romo. Say what you want about how he’s played the last few years, but right now he’s on a tear.
Beyond the three straight wins and a 4-1 spurt, Romo has gone three consecutive games without an interception and has just two over the last six games. His 12 touchdown passes in that span show he’s managed to protect the ball while still being aggressive.
The short week isn’t likely to break his spell. Dallas plays on Thanksgiving every year, and Romo is 4-0 on the holiday, with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. The Cowboys lost this showcase game last year, but Romo was out with a broken collarbone.
Romo’s recent success has been sparked by his return to good health and the running of rookie DeMarco Murray. He has 747 yards with six games left, putting him well on his way to the best rushing total by a Dallas runner since Emmitt Smith’s heyday.
However, Murray is coming off his least productive game since taking over. Against Washington, he had 73 yards on 25 carries, a 2.9 average. And he’ll be going against a defense that’s allowed 72.7 yards rushing during its winning streak.
Miami’s running game is getting cranked up, too, thanks to Reggie Bush. He has four touchdowns the last three games; it was four games ago, when the Dolphins were 0-6, that he proclaimed “this team stinks,” and Bell shot back “he stinks.”
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said he thinks the difference in production stems from Miami offensive coordinator Brian Daboll increasing Bush’s workload. He reached 13 carries only once the first six games; he’s had at least that many the last four games. He’s also had at least three receptions in each of those games after a long stretch of one or two per game.
“He’s featuring a way to get this guy the ball to do the things that he does best and to get him out in space,” Ryan said. “He’s (tough) out there, everybody knows it.”
Only one team will leave Cowboys Stadium on Sunday with a four-game winning streak. That team also will have three wins in 12 days, and no more games for 10 days.
“When I was in Dallas, I thought the three games in (12) days can change your fortunes fast one way or the other,” said Miami coach Tony Sparano, who was with the Cowboys from 2003-07. “We talk to the team about opportunity — and we have a really good opportunity.”
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