Any pain the Dallas Cowboys have endured in a difficult season surely can’t compare to what they’re feeling now.
A day after a car crash killed one of their teammates and sent another to jail, the Cowboys must come together to face the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Defensive lineman Josh Brent wasn’t on the team flight to Cincinnati on Saturday after a one-car accident that morning which killed practice-squad linebacker Jerry Brown Police said Brent was speeding when the vehicle hit a curb and flipped at least once.
A field sobriety test was conducted, and after Brown was pronounced dead, the charge against Brent was upgraded to intoxication manslaughter. He’s being held without bond.
“We are deeply saddened by the news of this accident and the passing of Jerry Brown,” team owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “At this time, our hearts and prayers and deepest sympathies are with the members of Jerry’s family and all of those who knew him and loved him.”
While Brown has not been on Dallas’ active roster since being signed Oct. 24, Brent has played a key role as starting nose tackle Jay Ratliff has battled injuries. Brent has played in all 12 games and started five, totaling 35 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks.
His focus Sunday would have been to help slow down Cincinnati’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis who has run for 348 yards and two scores over the past three weeks. Held to 69 yards or fewer in six of the first nine games, Green-Ellis has become the first Bengal with three consecutive 100-yard games since Corey Dillon in 1999.
Cincinnati (7-5) is averaging 179.3 yards on the ground during that stretch.
“It was his first time with a new line and a new system and terminology and all that stuff,” offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said of Green-Ellis’ early struggles. “A lot of the runs were the same he’s used to, but still you’ve got to get used to your linemen and our aiming points and all that.
“He’s done a great job being patient, but making his decisions and getting up the field have been outstanding. That’s the big thing.”
Gruden could lean on Green-Ellis even more Sunday with second-leading rusher Cedric Peerman questionable with an ankle injury.
Green-Ellis’ second-half surge has helped Cincinnati win four in a row and has surely taken some pressure off quarterback Andy Dalton He’s completed 62.5 percent of his passes during the winning streak with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions - both coming during last Sunday’s 20-13 victory at San Diego.
Dalton had a go-ahead 6-yard TD run with 4:11 left that kept the Bengals even with Pittsburgh for the AFC’s second wild-card spot, and two games back of North-leading Baltimore.
“We’re obviously in the hunt for this thing,” Dalton said.
The Cowboys (6-6) have won three of four since a 1-4 skid and are now tied with Washington - which owns the tiebreaker - and one game behind the first-place New York Giants in the NFC East.
Dallas may have saved its season last Sunday, outscoring Philadelphia 21-9 in the fourth quarter en route to a 38-33 victory.
“Each game, obviously, we’re playing for our playoff lives,” said Tony Romo who tossed three TD passes - all in the second half - to break Troy Aikman’s franchise record (165).
“We put ourselves here. We’ve got to figure out a way to play better ball.”
The Cowboys’ running attack has plenty of room for improvement - they’re ranked 30th with 82.4 yards per game - but having DeMarco Murray back last Sunday following a six-game absence with a sprained right foot provided a much-needed boost.
“I wasn’t expecting to get that much work,” he said.
Even though Murray’s back, tight end Jason Witten and wide receiver Dez Bryant can expect plenty of balls thrown their way, as they’re among the league leaders in targets with 120 and 103, respectively.
Over the last four games, Witten has a team-best 30 receptions while Bryant leads the Cowboys with 475 yards and six TDs.
Romo has nine TDs, two INTs and a 104.3 rating in those contests.
“Tony Romo, is as good as there is right now,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.
Cincinnati, though, is holding opponents to averages of 279.3 yards and 10.5 points since its last defeat.
“This team is getting better each week,” receiver A.J. Green said. “A lot of people said it was out of our reach to make the playoffs, but I feel like we have momentum on our side coming down the home stretch of the season.”
The Bengals have dropped four of six to Dallas, but they’ve won in each of the Cowboys’ last two visits.
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