DeMarco Murray joins booster club

IRVING, Texas -- If the Dallas Cowboys' season ends with an NFC East title for the third time in the last five years or at least a wild-card spot in the playoffs, they will look to the signature moment in which everything changed.

The picture will be of DeMarco Murray busting through St. Louis' defense at the Dallas 9 and running 91 yards to the end zone for the second-longest run in franchise history that catapulted the Cowboys to a 34-7 victory against the Rams.

Murray finished with 253 rushing yards, brushing aside Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett on his way to the top of the franchise's record book for most yards on the ground in a game.

"When a guy emerges like that I think the team can really take that and build off it," Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking said. "It can be a very positive thing for your football team."

If you think you have seen this show before, it is because you have. Twice before. That's not quite long enough to earn a long Broadway run, but the Cowboys will take it nonetheless.

Get into Mr. Peabody's WABAC machine or the "Back to the Future" DeLorean for a moment.

In 2006, the Cowboys were 3-3 after a 36-22 loss at Texas Stadium to the New York Giants. Bill Parcells benched Drew Bledsoe at halftime and inserted Tony Romo, whose first pass was intercepted. The next day the coaching staff met to decide on whether to stick with Bledsoe or to go with Romo.

While it wasn't unanimous, Romo got the call.

The Cowboys won five of their next six games, finished 9-7 and made it to the playoffs.

"I remember Tony brought a new breath of energy," said safety Abram Elam, who was a rookie then. "I remember the Monday night game against the Giants and we were throwing the ball all around. He made a great impression. We knew we could rely on him from what we saw in practice and with the way he prepared and the work he put in at the facility. When he got his opportunity, he definitely capitalized on it."

In 2009, the Cowboys were a listless 2-2 heading to winless Kansas City. Miles Austin got the first start of his career because Roy Williams suffered a rib injury the previous week at Denver. Austin caught 10 passes for a franchise-record 250 yards and two touchdowns, including the 60-yard game winner in overtime to beat the Chiefs.

The Cowboys won six of their next seven games, finished 11-5, and won the NFC East title and their first playoff game since 1996 by beating the Philadelphia Eagles in the wild-card round.

"The head coach talks all the time about passion, emotion and enthusiasm," Brooking said. "When a guy emerges who becomes a playmaker for you on offense or defense, it's a spark for your team."

Which brings us to 2011.

The Cowboys were 2-3 entering the St. Louis game after a losing a fourth-quarter lead at New England the previous week.

Since then, they have won four of their last five games and find themselves in first place in the NFC East. Since Oct. 23, no runner has more yards than Murray's 674. St. Louis' Steven Jackson is second with 529.

"I think anytime you add a player like that to your offense it's going to help your offense and it's going to take the burden off other people," coach Jason Garrett said. "That's an important thing. What you're trying to do is spread out the responsibility to everybody to step up and make plays. If it's just one guy, whether that's the quarterback, running back or wide receiver, over the course of a 16-game season I think that burden is difficult to handle.

"The runner is going to help the quarterback. The quarterback is going to help the receiver. The line is going to help both. The defense is going to help the offense. It's something that all works together and it's something that our players hear over and over again."

The Cowboys have followed Murray's ascension the way they followed Romo's in 2006 and Austin's in 2009.

"Some people call it juice," Austin said. "You can call it what you want, but at the end of the day we all have to focus on our tasks. We can't get consumed with what else is going on out there. Whether it seems like hype or the juice, whatever, we've just got to continue to do our job. We have good players on this team, great players on this team that can do those jobs."

It's just that they have needed a not-so subtle push from an unexpected force three different times to get to where they wanted to go.

Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.