Running Back By Committee?

A funny thing happened in Sunday's 10-6 win over the Buffalo Bills...Adrian Murrell actually outperformed Troy Hambrick in almost every way imagineable.

"Are you trying to ask me if I'm going to lose my job?" Cowboys running back Troy Hambrick asked as a couple of reporters gathered around him following Sunday's 10-6 victory against the Buffalo Bills.

Well, now that you mention it, Troy, isn't that how you interpreted the fact that you didn't get a single touch on the Cowboys' final six drives, which included 27 plays, 14 of them running plays?

"No," he said assuredly.

"Not exactly," he added, just a little less assuredly. He caught himself, quickly returning to the company line, which was recited so precisely by owner Jerry Jones, coach Bill Parcells, Hambrick and the back who handled 13 of those final 14 Cowboys rushing plays, Adrian Murrell, that one would think they were reading from a script.

The short version is that the starting job still belongs to Hambrick, and Murrell is just here to help. The mere suggestion that something else was afoot, given that Murrell got more carries than Hambrick (16-13), gained more yards (76-33) and averaged more yards per carry (4.8-2.5), was met with incredulity.

"You guys are unbelievable," Parcells said. "Just because I play somebody for a period of time, you are asking if I flip around my lineup."

Of course, he didn't mention the time Murrell played included the entire fourth quarter of a game that was very much in question. It included the final four plays, when the Cowboys were desperately trying to get a first down to run out the clock, and included a third-and-eight play with 1:09 left in the game in which Murrell gained 17 to seal the victory.

Murrell took a bow on the sideline after the run. He took the fifth after the game. "No one needs to look over their shoulder here at me. I'm just here to provide a boost, just trying to help win games," said Murrell, who played in only his second game since he was signed 13 days ago, ending a 2 1/2-year retirement.

The explanation given for adding Murrell was that the Cowboys needed somebody to soak up some of injured fullback Richie Anderson's carries. But Anderson was back Sunday, and Murrell still almost doubled his workload from a nine-carry debut against the Redskins last week.

Even more telling was that 12 of his 16 carries came after Hambrick's last attempt. Murrell wasn't simply a change-of-pace player. He was, at least for one week, an in-place-of player.

"I don't think it says anything about [Hambrick]. It's just Murrell. I'm glad we got him," Jones said, who added that Murrell "looked like he was the most effective."

While the Cowboys can deny they have a running back controversy, there is no denying they have a running game problem.

They finished with 122 yards rushing, but averaged only 3.5 yards per carry. They entered the game ranked 18th in the NFL in that category, averaging 3.9 yards per rush. And they rushed for a measly 53 yards in the first half, in part due to Parcells' insistence on going back to his backs despite their lack of production.

"We didn't get the job done," Hambrick said, emphasizing "we," rather than "I."

Hambrick said he did not believe Murrell's carries were an indictment of Hambrick's play. Hambrick said he is still a little banged up from his broken left middle finger to his sprained shoulder, and going to Murrell was a way to keep him fresh.

The decision to stay with Murrell came from the gut. That happens when a team has a running back by committee, which it is becoming obvious the Cowboys have. They can say Hambrick is the starting tailback, but that just means he is on the field for their first offensive series. Sunday's game proved Parcells doesn't feel compelled to stick it out with Hambrick.

"There are certain plays Adrian can run better than I can and there are some plays I can run better than him, and that's what I think the committee means," Hambrick said.

But can running back by committee work? Or is it only a matter of Murrell getting his football legs back under him before Parcells makes it a committee of one, starring Murrell?

"It's still Hambrick's job, if that is what you are asking me," Murrell said. "He is a great runner. I don't want to take anything from him. It's just [Parcells] left me in there tonight."

That's the Cowboys' story and they are sticking to it.

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