ARLINGTON, Texas — Tony Romo was sick and it wasn’t because he had just watched the Oakland Raiders return a fumble for a touchdown on the opening kickoff.
After the Dallas quarterback caught a virus the night before Thanksgiving, his top two running backs were there to help Thursday.
DeMarco Murray ran for three touchdowns, backup Lance Dunbar led Dallas with a career-high 82 yards rushing and the Cowboys overcame the shock of Oakland’s early score to beat the Raiders 31-24.
Romo still did his part. He was behind 7-0 before taking his first snap, and his offense didn’t have a yard in the second quarter when he took the field down 21-7 with less than two minutes remaining before halftime.
Five completions from Romo later, Murray scored on a 4-yard run 10 seconds before halftime and set up a second-half rally that put the Cowboys (7-5) two games above .500 for the first time since late last season.
Dallas is at least temporarily ahead of Philadelphia (6-5) atop the NFC East.
“To have the opening kickoff fumbled and returned for a touchdown and then be down a couple of scores in the first half, nobody blinked,” Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett said. “The momentum kind of turned and I think guys started feeling pretty good, and it just continued.”
Dallas was without kick returner Dwayne Harris because of a hamstring injury, and rookie replacement Terrance Williams gave the Raiders a touchdown with a fumble on the opening kickoff.
Greg Jenkins picked up the ball at the 23 after it squirted away from the pile and outran everyone to the pylon. The play was upheld on review after replay showed Williams’ knee hitting the turf just as the ball was coming out.
Matt McGloin, an undrafted rookie quarterback making his third career start, had a strong first half for the Raiders.
But without much help from the league’s fifth-best rushing offense, his team stalled in the second half as Oakland (4-8) clinched an 11th straight season without a winning record since going to the Super Bowl during the 2002 season.
Rashad Jennings rushed for 35 yards on 17 carries – a 2.1-yard average – and had both of Oakland’s offensive touchdowns. Darren McFadden carried just five times for 13 yards in his return after missing three games with a hamstring injury.
The Raiders finished with 50 yards rushing, 1 more than their season low, while the Cowboys came with the league’s 29th-ranked rushing offense and had 144 yards on the ground, their second-best total of the year.
“The game boiled down to, in the second half we wore down,” said Raiders Coach Dennis Allen, the league’s youngest head coach making his first appearance near the Dallas suburb of Hurst, where he grew up. “They were able to run the ball and we weren’t able to get off the field.”
Murray had just 25 yards after his third TD, but ran for another 38 to help Dallas burn the clock with a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter. Most of the late damage came on a drive to Dan Bailey’s 19-yard field goal to put Dallas up by 10 with 1:56 left.
Murray, who made it 7-7 on a 2-yard run the first play after a fumble by McGloin late in the first quarter, also had 39 yards receiving.
“I was just playing like I always play,” Murray said. “I’m not worried about anything else. I’m just doing the best I can do and trying to help this team win.”
Dunbar, who went out with a left knee sprain in the fourth quarter, sparked the tying and go-ahead touchdown drives in the second half, highlighted by a 45-yard run that led to a 4-yard scoring pass from Romo to Dez Bryan.
McGloin, who was 18 of 30 for 255 yards, converted five straight third downs with passes on a pair of touchdown drives in the second quarter.
He also had a throw to Andre Holmes that was ruled a touchdown on second-and-goal from the 16. After the call was overturned on replay, Jennings scored from the 1 to put Oakland ahead 14-7.