Wilfredo Lee
November 24, 2015

IRVING, Texas (AP) Darren McFadden is coming off the heaviest five-game workload of his injury-marred career and facing a short Thanksgiving week in his first season with the Dallas Cowboys.

The eighth-year running back is also on one of his most productive stretches since Oakland made him the No. 4 pick in 2008. So don't expect him to ease up for the quick turnaround against unbeaten Carolina on Thursday.

''I talked to him on the plane last night and he's chomping at the bit,'' coach Jason Garrett said a day after the Cowboys (3-7) ended a seven-game losing streak with a 24-14 win at Miami last Sunday. ''When you get an opportunity like he's gotten and you're at this point in your career, you do everything you can to embrace it fully and he's done that. The best thing about it is the other guys on our football team are seeing it.''

The Cowboys don't like comparisons - especially this one - but they are seeing a little bit of DeMarco Murray, the reigning NFL rushing champion who left for NFC East rival Philadelphia in free agency.

Dallas' answer a day later was the signing of McFadden, who had a disappointing career with the Raiders. He surpassed 1,000 yards just once in seven seasons.

And when he finally played all 16 games for the first time last year, it was mostly in a complementary role. He finished with 534 yards and close to a career low in per-carry average.

The Cowboys weren't sure they could count on McFadden, and were wary enough of his injury history to be cautious with a hamstring injury most of training camp. So Joseph Randle, Murray's backup for two seasons, started the first six games with McFadden in a limited role.

Then Randle injured his back early in a loss at the New York Giants, and McFadden had the team's first 100-yard game of the season. He's had two more since, with 494 yards in the past five games. That's on 122 carries, his highest in a five-game stretch.

Oh, and for those counting - executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones was sure everyone would after the Cowboys decided not to pay Murray's big money - McFadden has 623 yards to Murray's 515 with the Eagles.

McFadden's pace is just shy of 1,000 yards, but he'll get there if the past five games are any indication.

''He has always been a pro,'' quarterback Tony Romo said. ''He was hurt when he first got here, so you couldn't see that part of it. He has really done a great job of really showing our football team when a guy runs downhill and finishes and runs the way he has, it sends a message.''

Because Romo missed all seven losses with a broken collarbone, the win over the Dolphins was the first time he's shared the backfield with a go-to runner since Murray last year.

And the last Dallas possession was the closest thing to how the Cowboys looked while winning their division in 2014. Protecting a 10-point lead, they burned more than five minutes with 11 runs by McFadden in 12 plays, giving up the ball on downs with 1:04 remaining.

''I'm not into comparing. I don't think that does anyone any good,'' Romo said. ''He has done a really good job. It was great to see us close out that game the way we wanted to at the end there in Miami.''

You name it, McFadden injured it while in Oakland: foot, shoulder, toe, ankle, knee, hamstring. And now he has to face the Panthers (10-0) and their top-10 rushing defense on short rest after his second 29-carry game in the past five.

''Can't say it's more mental than physical, but you definitely have to get your body all the way back right,'' McFadden said. ''For me, I feel good and I'll be ready when Thursday comes.''

Garrett said toughness was never a question with McFadden coming out of Arkansas, the alma mater of Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, who took backfield mate Felix Jones later in the first round eight years ago.

Thanks to better health, McFadden has had a chance to show it.

''I think our guys love having this guy run behind them and the spirit that he brings, the toughness that he brings that pervades our team,'' Garrett said. ''It's a good thing for our football team.''

And it must look familiar.

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