- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2008

No doubt about it, the Dallas Cowboys are a different team with Tony Romo. How different? They even win important football games.

His broken right pinkie protected by a plastic splint, the Cowboys’ Pro Bowl quarterback returned from a three-game layoff to face the Washington Redskins on Sunday night. He had modest statistics 19 of 27, 198 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions — but Romo’s presence exceeds mere numbers.

“It changes everything,” tight end Jason Witten said. “Your whole mentality changes. Your confidence, your swagger. Everything from the snap counts to where you’re supposed to be. He does it all for us and that’s what we’re used to. Nothing against our backups, but, you know, he’s the franchise.”

Early in the fourth quarter, the franchise threw what proved to be the winning touchdown pass to tight end Martellus Bennett. Losers of three of their last four games, the Cowboys emerged from their funk with a 14-10 victory at FedEx Field.

For another week, at least, owner Jerry Jones’ guarantee that the Cowboys will make the playoffs still has legs. The win pulled the Cowboys into a tie with the Redskins at 6-4 in the NFC East. That’s three games behind the New York Giants, but smack in the middle of a multiteam scrum for the two wild card spots.

“We needed to tell ourselves that this is an important time,” said Romo, who benefited more than anyone from having a bye last week. “We lose this game and we’re really behind the eight-ball as far as making it to the postseason… . We treated this like a playoff game in a lot of ways.

“It’s exciting to prove to ourselves that we can be very resilient and play when it counts, in a tough situation. And, finish the football game.”

Dallas head coach Wade Phillips, whose job probably would have been as imperiled as his team’s playoff chances if the Cowboys lost, said, “It certainly puts us back in the picture, and that’s what we needed.”

Romo is now 24-9 since taking over as the starter two years ago, but he had help. Barber rumbled for 114 yards in 24 carries and personally kept the ball away from the Redskins down the stretch. A defense that yielded at least 30 points to three of its previous four opponents held the Redskins to a solitary touchdown.

Before his injury, Romo completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,689 yards 280 yards a game - 14 touchdowns and five interceptions. The numbers for his replacements, Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger, were 53.2 percent, 163 yards a game, three touchdowns and six interceptions.

Against the Redskins, Romo completed his first six passes but the offense sputtered. He threw two first-half interceptions, one on a pass thrown slightly behind Terrell Owens, the other when Owens was belted by Carlos Rogers and the ball popped into the arms of linebacker Rocky McIntosh.

With the wind swirling, “We knew it wasn’t gonna be a shootout,” Romo said. On top of that, there was the splint, which took considerable time getting accustomed to.

“You’re gonna have some throws where you don’t get a good grip on the ball,” Romo said. “At the same time, I did some things I was pretty happy with tonight.”

Like not getting sacked. Jones, who enjoys holding court after big wins, said, “It was no accident that they didn’t touch him. They didn’t touch him because he’s got those instincts in the pocket.” Romo has “unique skills,” Jones said, “and when you can keep the chains moving and moving the ball like that, it makes a lot of difference.”

After falling behind, 7-0, midway through the first quarter, Romo and the Cowboys finally found their rhythm near the end of the half with a seven-play, 80-yard drive to tie the game. Romo was five-of-five for 74 yards, including completions of 28 and 25 yards to Witten and Owens.

The Redskins added a field goal just before halftime to take a 10-7 lead, and both teams sparred evenly until early in the fourth quarter. Romo converted a third-down on an improvised a shovel pass to Miles Austin, then fired a perfect 25-yard touchdown pass to Bennett, a 6-foot-6 rookie, thrown where only he could reach it. It put the Cowboys ahead for the first and last time, 14-10, with 10:36 remaining.

The Dallas defense held on fourth down and then Barber did the rest, 10 carries in the final 6:40, plus a third-down pass with 2:49 to go — 11 straight touches in all — that allowed the Cowboys to run out the clock.

“The adrenaline of the game is a great equalizer,” Romo said. “I felt if I can kind of do it during the week (in practice) I know I can do it during the game.”

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