Cowboys still effective without Romo at full-strength

The sight of Tony Romo carving up the Jacksonville Jaguars was so pleasing to Jason Garrett’s eye that he foolishly let him play well into the fourth quarter of a 31-17 win Sunday. Romo completed six passes to Dez Bryant for 158 yards and two touchdowns…in the second quarter alone.

It was the type of dominant win the Cowboys desperately needed to convince themselves (and others) that a 6-1 start to the season wasn’t simply a mirage. It goes without saying the Jaguars are a sad outfit, but that shouldn’t diminish what the Cowboys accomplished. They head into the bye week with a 7-3 record and the knowledge Romo can still be quite effective at less than full-strength.

With the offensive line welcoming two starters back, Romo was barely touched in the first half. He finished the day 20-of-27 for 246 yards and three touchdowns. The Cowboys had a 10-7 lead when Romo connected with Bryant on an underneath route. He broke three tackles on his way to a 35-yard touchdown. It was the type of physical play that set the tone for the Cowboys’ easy win.

He finished off the Jaguars when they tried to use poor Dwayne Gratz to cover him one-on-one. Bryant used his strength to get immediate separation before hauling in a 68-yard touchdown to give the Cowboys a 24-7 lead. The Cowboys had given the Jaguars a glimmer of hope a couple minutes earlier when Cole Beasley fumbled after catching a slant from Romo. The Jags couldn’t do anything with it and had to punt late in the second quarter.

Romo was 16-of-21 for 225 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. It also helped that DeMarco Murray was gashing the Jaguars for long gains. When Murray took a breather in the third quarter, his backup Joseph Randle sliced through the right side of the line for a 40-yard touchdown to give the Cowboys a 31-7 lead.

Center Travis Frederick made a crushing block on a linebacker to help spring Randle on the play. The Cowboys had 151 yards rushing, with Murray having his typical 100-yard day.

Garrett left Romo in the game for no apparent reason in the fourth quarter. That’s when he was sacked for the first time. That finally prompted an appearance from backup Brandon Weeden on the next possession. The Cowboys’ defense had rookie quarterback Blake Bortles in a headlock at that point, so there’s really no logical explanation as to why Romo remained in the game. I kept waiting for Jerry Jones to appear on the sideline and provide counseling.

Rookie Anthony Hitchens filled in for the injured Rolando McClain at middle linebacker. McClain was in uniform, but he was never called upon because of the way Hitchens and Bruce Carter were playing. The two combined for 16 tackles and Carter added an interception.

The Cowboys sacked Bortles four times. Other than one drive early in the game, Bortles looked confused against the Cowboys. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli dialed up cornerback and safety blitzes while dropping defensive end Anthony Spencer into coverage. And when the Jaguars tried to make a fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, Hitchens stoned Toby Gerhart with a big hit.

The Cowboys will be able to sit home Monday and root for the Panthers to beat the Eagles. They will likely practice through Thursday before taking a long bye weekend. Beginning Nov. 23 against the Giants, the Cowboys will play three games in 11 days. They won’t get their typical bye-like situation following the Thanksgiving matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles.

With that in mind, it’s still baffling that Romo was dropping back to pass when the Cowboys had a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter. Garrett will have to play it smarter if he wants to have Romo for the final six games of the regular-season…and perhaps a playoff run.

The good news is Dallas looked a lot like the team that rose to the top of the NFC last month. That’s partly due to playing the Jaguars in the friendly confines of Wembley Stadium.

But some of the credit has to go to Romo. I thought his presence alone would make the Jags respect the passing game. But he went ahead and fired few to Bryant to drive home the point.

God save the Queen. Garrett needs to save Romo.

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