Posted: Sep 23, 2013 7:28 PM
Updated: Sep 24, 2013 7:47 AM
IRVING, Texas (AP) - Jason Hatcher says he wasn't calling out Tony Romo when he pleaded last week for consistency from his Dallas teammates.
After a 31-7 victory over St. Louis on Sunday, the Cowboys shot down a report that the defensive tackle and emerging team leader had singled out his quarterback to stress the importance of avoiding another up-and-down season.
Now the biggest margin of victory in nearly two years coming off a one-point loss in Kansas City gives the Cowboys a reason to heed Hatcher's words as they prepare to visit San Diego.
Hatcher was in charge of the pre-game speech on the field against the Rams, and he said a few more words after a dominating performance. He says all the words - all week - were meant for everyone.
"Romo knows what's at stake," Hatcher said. "He's a football player. Why would I get on the leader of the team?"
The Cowboys (2-1) haven't won three of their first four since 2008. They were 8-8 in each of coach Jason Garrett's first two full seasons. Both years, they were 8-6 and lost the last two games to miss the playoffs.
There was another reason for Hatcher to speak up during the week. Last year, the Cowboys opened with a big win over the New York Giants only to play one of their worst games of the season in Seattle. This year, Dallas beat the Giants again in the opener, only to see many of the same losing symptoms return against the Chiefs.
"The main thing from Hatcher's speech is being consistent," said DeMarcus Ware, who had two sacks of the Rams' Sam Bradford to become the franchise leader with 115. "Not being up and down. Win a game, then lose a game. That's what we did last week. With the win we have right now, how consistent can we be now week in and week out?"
Hatcher, Ware and the other Dallas defenders are doing more than talking. The Cowboys held the Rams to 18 total yards in the first half while running back DeMarco Murray had 96 by himself. They had six sacks of Bradford and hit him eight other times.
Dallas has given up 199 yards rushing, and 47 of them came in the only letdown the defense has so far - a clock-killing drive that helped the Chiefs seal a 17-16 win.
"I thought Hatcher's words after practice were directed at our entire football team," Garrett said. "I think it was a real good sign of leadership by him. It starts with Hatch, it's not about words with Hatch. It's about how he plays and how he goes about it every single day. I think that's what people respond to most."
Turnovers were the talk of the first game when the Cowboys forced six against the Giants. It's been more about pressure on the quarterback lately. Dallas has nine sacks the past two weeks as it prepares to face Phillip Rivers on the road.
The first sack against the Rams came at the end of two three-and-out sequences from the Dallas defense to start the game. The Cowboys had to do it twice because Dwayne Harris muffed the game's first punt.
"The defense had to earn it with three-and-outs," owner Jerry Jones said. "Those weren't necessarily happening with turnovers. I can't recall when I've seen us play better ever."
Now the Cowboys have to do it again on the road against an AFC West team. They're 0-for-1 so far this year.
"It feels good to bounce back like this," said tight end Jason Witten, who led Dallas with five catches for 67 yards. "I think we will enjoy this win, but the message going forward is that we had a big hiccup against a good team in Kansas City but you've got to start finding ways to win games and stack them up, not just go back and forth with win, loss, win, loss."
That was Hatcher's message - for Romo and everyone else.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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