ARLINGTON, Texas Admit it or not, the Dallas Cowboys knew the stakes.
Beat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday and the Cowboys had a chance for a long winning streak. A soft schedule made five in a row realistic, and who knows how many more if they can use that stretch to work out their flaws.
So consider what happened against Buffalo a bit of a statement.
Tony Romo led Dallas to touchdowns on its first four drives, a solid defensive effort was capped by Terence Newman returning an interception for a touchdown and rookie kicker Dan Bailey made three field goals, powering the Cowboys past the Bills 44-7.
This thorough performance was a bit historic, too. Dallas scored its most points since Sept. 9, 2007, and enjoyed its most lopsided win since Oct. 22, 2000. The 37-point margin is bigger than any regular-season victory in Dallas with Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells or Barry Switzer on the sideline, quite a feat for Jason Garrett in his first full season on the job.
I think that s as good as we played against a team that s credible, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. It shows we are making improvement.
Dallas (5-4) was coming off a win over Seattle, and its next three foes are a combined 8-19.
We needed a game like this, tight end Jason Witten said. This needs to be the foundation of what lies ahead for this team.
Romo put Dallas ahead 21-0 by throwing touchdown passes of 34 yards to Dez Bryant and 58 and 5 yards to Laurent Robinson. He hit his first 13 attempts and finished 23 of 26 (88.5 percent), setting the franchise record for single-game accuracy.
Romo didn t lead any more touchdown drives after those first four possessions, but he also didn t do anything to ruin what he d built.
He had no interceptions and wasn t sacked, avoiding both for a second straight week. Being error-free Sunday was especially noteworthy because he was facing the defense that leads the NFL in takeaways and was second in interceptions.
We are learning a little bit about who we are and what we can do and what we are capable of doing, Romo said. We are starting to get better as the season keeps progressing.
Romo is clearly benefiting from the rapid development of rookie running back DeMarco Murray. He turned 20 carries into 135 yards and a touchdown, and had 35 yards on six receptions. He was a concern of the defense all day, drawing enough attention to help open space for Romo to throw toward in the secondary.
Murray also continued to show it s going to take a lot of guys to stop him as he made several highlight-worthy moves, such as hurdling safety Jairus Byrd and, on another play, cutting back across the field to turn a likely loss into a 25-yard gain.
They can t load the box on us and they can t double team wide receivers, Murray said.
Another reason for Romo s crisp performance: He s finally over the broken rib he suffered in Week 2. This was the first game he played since then without a special vest for protection.
Buffalo (5-4) lost its second straight and third in four games. The rout made it an especially bitter homecoming for coach Chan Gailey and running back Fred Jackson. Gailey coached the Cowboys to the playoffs in 1998-99, his only two years on the job, and Jackson grew up in this suburb, at one time living on the property that s now Cowboys Stadium.
Gailey said he told the team they did little right, but that he still believes in them.
We will regroup and continue to work to get better, Gailey said. But you have to go do it. Nobody s going to give you anything in this league.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was 20 of 31 for 146 yards and a touchdown, a 3-yarder to David Nelson punctuated by Nelson presenting the ball to his girlfriend a Cowboys cheerleader.
Fitzpatrick helped make Cowboys cheerleaders happy all afternoon. He threw a season-worst three interceptions, two by Newman and another to Frank Walker at the 1-yard line on Buffalo s final snap. He converted only 2 of 7 third-down attempts, and failed on his only fourth-down try.
This was the second straight ugly outing for Fitzpatrick, who recently signed a $59 million, six-year contract. His QB rating was 46.6, down from 51.9 in a loss to the Jets the previous week.
We put in some good practice time and really thought we d come out here and play well, Fitzpatrick said. It s hard to even think ahead right now because of how embarrassing that loss was.
Dallas defense was opportunistic from the start, with DeMarcus Ware sacking Fitzpatrick on Buffalo s first offensive play. The Cowboys racked up four turnovers, including safety Gerald Sensabaugh forcing a fumble by Jackson. The local product still had a productive day, gaining 114 yards on 13 carries.
Bryant caught six passes for 74 yards, and Robinson had three catches for 73 yards. Witten caught five passes, pushing him past Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome for the third place on the NFL s career list for tight ends.
Bailey made field goals of 31, 36 and 45 yards. He s made 21 straight, the third-best streak in franchise history.