Romo, Cowboys trying to hang on in uneven season

Tony Romo threw 13 interceptions in the first seven games and

has just two since. He was booed lustily in two mistake-filled home

losses, then broke Troy Aikman’s franchise record for touchdowns in

the most efficient outing of his career.

The Dallas quarterback has used phrases such as ”exhausting my

brain” while the Cowboys have lived on the edge of the playoff

chase, and their penchant for falling behind looked like it might

wear out his right arm.

Romo won’t call this up-and-down grind tougher than any other in

six years of trying to get the Cowboys even remotely close to a

Super Bowl for the first time since the 1995 season. It sure looks

like it, though – even sounds like it.

”I constantly analyze what our team needs or what can help our

football team, what we may need to change to help what or who we

are and what this team needs to do to get better,” said Romo, who

is a year away from the end of his contract and now the married

father of an 8-month old boy. ”That’s always in my brain. How can

I do it? How can I help others? You think about it

constantly.”

Because of the games and throws that got away, the Cowboys (6-6)

may not survive another loss as they begin the final quarter of the

season Sunday at Cincinnati (7-5). Dallas hasn’t reached the

postseason since 2009, when Romo had his only playoff victory and

just the second for the Cowboys since their last Super Bowl

win.

If the Cowboys are going anywhere, Romo will probably have to be

the one leading them.

One of his classic scrambles and completions was the most

important play in a win over Philadelphia that started the current

3-1 stretch. The injury-depleted Dallas defense couldn’t stop the

Eagles in the rematch, but Romo kept pace until a big defensive

touchdown gave the Cowboys a cushion.

One of Romo’s two interceptions in the past five games helped

Washington take a 28-3 halftime lead on Thanksgiving, but he came

back with three second-half touchdowns and had the Cowboys within

seven when a defensive letdown put the Redskins back in

control.

In the second halves of his past two games, Romo has thrown for

513 yards and six touchdowns with one interception, and he now has

168 career TDs, three more than Aikman, a three-time Super Bowl

winner.

”I think more than anything else, he’s taking care of the ball

and still making plays,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. ”When

Tony’s playing his best, he’s able to do that. We never want to

stifle him, but we believe that he can play the way he plays and

still minimize the bad plays.”

The turnovers are down even though defenses targeted Romo while

not having to worry as much about a compromised Dallas running

attack. DeMarco Murray missed six games with a sprained right foot,

and the Cowboys rushed for more than 100 yards just once without

him.

Murray’s first play back Sunday against Philadelphia snapped a

streak of 52 straight snaps where Romo didn’t hand off, and he

carried for 14 yards. Murray ended up getting the ball the first

three Dallas plays and finished with 23 carries for 83 yards. Oh,

and the Cowboys rushed for 100 yards again – and would have

approached 150 if not for a couple of fluky negative plays.

It may not be a coincidence that with Murray behind him again,

Romo was 10 of 10 in the second half of a 38-33 win over the

Eagles. Plus, he didn’t have to throw as much. He was 22 of 27

after tossing 112 passes in a span of five days.

”He’s a smart quarterback,” Murray said. ”You definitely have

to have your `A’ game with him because there are times he’s calling

the play and he’ll change it up to another play, a different

protection he wants you to stay in. So you definitely have to know

what you’re doing when you’re out there with him.”

The Cowboys have had injury issues in the offensive line all

season, and while the number of sacks on Romo isn’t overwhelming –

28, or slightly more than two per game – he has been on the run and

knocked down a lot. Romo was sacked a career-high seven times

against Cleveland, but still led a tying drive in the final minute

of regulation in the 23-20 overtime win. He threw for 257 yards on

50 attempts without an interception.

With Murray back and the offensive line as healthy as it’s going

to get, Romo’s ride to a possible playoff berth could be steadier

if nothing else.

”We’re lucky to have him as our quarterback,” tight end Jason

Witten said. ”He gives us an advantage anytime we go out

there.”

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