The Dallas Cowboys' late-season playoff run has been sparked by players with Oklahoma ties.
Dez Bryant has been one of the NFL's top receivers the past two months. DeMarco Murray has helped Dallas re-establish its ground game. Kicker Dan Bailey is booting game-winning field goals. Even rookie tight end James Hanna is contributing.
Bryant, in his second year out of Oklahoma State, is playing with a fractured index finger that Dallas owner Jerry Jones said probably will require bone taken off his hip and placed in the finger after the season.
“He was inspirational to everybody involved in the organization,” Jones said. “Make no mistake about it, he has an injury. But because we're still playing for the marbles, he wanted to give it everything he could.”
The Cowboys (8-6) have won five of their last six games to move into a three-way tie for the NFC East lead with the Giants and Redskins.
Bryant has played a key role, hauling in 40 catches for 544 yards and eight TDs in the past six games.
“(Quarterback) Tony (Romo) trusts me more and more,” Bryant said. “That's all it is.”
It's been a dramatic turnaround for Bryant. He was criticized for off-the-field issues and early season struggles, highlighted by running the wrong route when Romo threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown in an Oct. 1 loss to Chicago.
“I know that you go by catches and yards and touchdowns but I go by how many times he does the right thing, makes the right choice, runs the right route, the depth he's at, his ability to read the coverage,” Romo said. “It's a lot of stuff he didn't do as well in the beginning of the year. But he's come on lately.”
Murray, OU's all-time touchdown leader, missed six games with a sprained left foot. He's rushed for 217 yards and scored a touchdown in every game since he returned to help the Cowboys go 3-0 in December.
“Slowly but surely I'm starting to feel better. But it's a long process,” Murray said. “It gives us a lot of confidence when we have all our weapons. We have a lot of playmakers. When all our core guys are in there, guys can't be double (teamed) and they can't stack the box (to stop the run).”
Bailey, in his second year out of OSU, has produced a game-winning field goal in three of Dallas' last four wins. Two were overtime kicks against Cleveland and Pittsburgh. He also booted a last-second game-winner at Cincinnati.
“You enjoy those moments,” Bailey said. “It's rare when you get those opportunities. The more chances you have to go out and help the team the better. It's always fun to put the final points on the board.”
Bailey has made 27 of 29 field goals. His only two misses have been over 50 yards. He's been so consistent Dallas coach Jason Garrett contemplated letting Bailey attempt a 61-yarder late in regulation against the Steelers. Garrett ultimately decided it was too much of a field position risk.
“There was a pretty good breeze coming in,” Bailey said. “I was hitting them pretty good during pregame from pretty far back. I was confident. But given the situation with (32 seconds) on the clock I understand the decision we made. That was the right call.”
Hanna, a rookie from OU, has been active for all 14 games but had only two receptions all season before he hauled in two catches for 45 yards to spark a touchdown drive against Pittsburgh.
“I've been practicing pretty well for a while now and have played consistently on the scout team,” Hanna said. “I hope to stay involved but it's always whatever is best for this team moving forward.”