(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)By SCHUYLER DIXONAP Sports Writer
The Dallas Cowboys barely beat two teams going nowhere and couldn’t hang with Robert Griffin III in a loss during their three-game home stand.
Now the schedule features winning teams fighting for the playoffs, and the Cowboys need those games and probably some help in getting to the postseason.
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Dallas visits Cincinnati on Sunday before returning home to play Pittsburgh. The Bengals and Steelers are tied for second in the AFC North at 7-5, and are probably in the wild-card hunt because they trail Baltimore by two games.
The Cowboys (6-6) spent the past few weeks figuring they needed to win the NFC East to get in, though they could be in the wild-card mix, too.
”Each game, obviously, we’re playing for our playoff lives,” said Tony Romo, who had three touchdown passes to break Troy Aikman’s franchise record in Sunday’s 38-33 victory against Philadelphia. ”We put ourselves here. We’ve got to figure out a way to play better ball. Some ways, we did that tonight and other ways, we’ve got to continue to get better.”
Start with Romo on the positive side of that equation. He completed all 10 of his second-half passes, which included two tying touchdowns and the go-ahead toss to Dez Bryant midway through the fourth quarter. An earlier touchdown to Bryant was the 166th of Romo’s career and broke the record held by Aikman, a three-time Super Bowl winner.
Romo was 22 of 27 for 303 yards and has gone without an interception in four of the past five games. He has 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions after throwing 13 picks in the first seven games.
”I thought he did a really good job of playing within himself, playing within the system when things weren’t there and he was able to make some plays,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said.
The Dallas defense didn’t make many plays before rookie Morris Claiborne followed Romo’s go-ahead score by picking up a fumble and returning it 50 yards for his first NFL touchdown.
Before that play, the Cowboys had no sacks or turnovers and had allowed the Eagles and rookie quarterback Nick Foles to score on four straight possessions, including a 58-yard drive to a field goal in the final 35 seconds of the first half and another march to a tiebreaking kick in the fourth quarter.
”We just have to stick it out,” Claiborne said. ”We’ve been doing a good job fighting this whole year with our backs against the wall. Last night, the defense, it felt like our backs were against the wall.”
Brown had 169 yards rushing and almost matched the Eagles rookie record of 178 he set a week earlier against Carolina in his first start. He had several long runs and scored untouched twice, including up the middle from the 5.
”He’s had a couple of good weeks running it, and we just didn’t defend it well enough: the inside runs, the outside runs,” Garrett said. ”Obviously we have to defend the run better.”
The Cowboys might have their own running game back for the playoff push after struggling without DeMarco Murray. He returned from a six-game absence due to a sprained right foot and rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown. His per-carry average still wasn’t great – 3.6 yards, just a tick better than the team’s season average – but part of that was an 11-yard loss late in the game.
The Dallas offensive line is getting healthy, too. Ryan Cook started at center after missing two games with a knee problem, which allowed Mackenzy Bernadeau to return to guard. Tyron Smith was back at right tackle after missing almost two full games with a sprained ankle.
”I think it’s an encouraging sign compared to weeks past,” Cook said. ”We had a couple of negative plays. Those definitely contributed to that a little bit, but we look forward for encouraging signs as far as getting that average up.”
Jerry Jones is always looking for encouraging signs, and the owner was slightly more upbeat 10 days after a demoralizing loss to the Redskins that had him questioning whether the Cowboys could make the playoffs.
”I am very hopeful, but I am realistic,” Jones said. ”I know that we play teams that if we make some of the miscues that we made out there tonight …”
He didn’t have to finish the thought.
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