ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - Tom Brady called it a “bummer” that New England was catching the Dallas Cowboys when they were missing Tony Romo and Dez Bryant.
The star quarterback for the Patriots didn’t say it was a letdown, though. Big difference.
“This team could easily be 4-0,” Brady said of the Cowboys (2-2), who instead have lost both full games without Romo and Bryant heading into New England’s first visit to their $1.2 billion stadium Sunday. “They’re playing at home. They’ve got a lot of good players. Last year they were one of the best teams in football.”
The 38-year-old Brady is off to one of his best starts in his 16th season, the only quarterback besides Peyton Manning to have at least 1,110 yards passing and nine touchdowns without an interception in his first three games.
Coming off a bye, he’s trying to join Manning and Fran Tarkenton as the only quarterbacks to get off to a 4-0 start at least four times in a career.
The Cowboys are just trying to find a way to win without Romo, who will miss at least four more games after this one with a broken left collarbone. Brandon Weeden is making his third start in Romo’s place, and has a personal 10-game losing streak that goes back to his time in Cleveland.
Dallas led Atlanta by two touchdowns three times before fading in the second half of Weeden’s first start after Romo’s injury. Then Drew Brees beat the Cowboys with an 80-yard touchdown on the second play of overtime for New Orleans.
Now Dallas gets the defending Super Bowl champs and their six-game winning streak including the playoffs last season.
“We’ve got a resilient group of guys in this room, that last week’s last week,” said Weeden, who turns 32 next week but is making just his 24th career start; the four-time champ Brady completes his second streak of 100 straight regular-season starts for the Patriots. “We’re on to the next one. This is another big challenge for us. We know that.”
While Romo lost Bryant to a broken right foot in the opener before sustaining his injury a week later, Brady and high-scoring favorite target Rob Gronkowski are at it again. They’ve connected on four touchdowns through three games for the league’s top offense in yardage and points. New England’s 88 first downs through three games are the most in NFL history.
“They’ve had a lot of success for a long time. And there is a reason for that,” Dallas tight end Jason Witten said. “I don’t think you focus on last year. We respect them because of what we see the last three Sundays they played. And they’re a really good football team.”
Things to consider as the Patriots go for a fifth straight win over the Cowboys after losing the first seven in the series:
HARDY & MCCLAIN: Defensive end Greg Hardy makes his Dallas debut and linebacker Rolando McClain returns as well after both served four-game suspensions to start the season. Hardy made headlines in his first public comments since signing with Dallas by making a reference to guns and commenting on Brady’s wife after the NFL suspended him because they believed he roughed up an ex-girlfriend with semi-automatic rifles in plain view in his apartment.
“We addressed it immediately,” coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s not how we want to operate as an organization. We want to distinguish ourselves with our play, not with what we say.”
FIRST VISIT: Brady makes his first visit to Dallas’ retractable roof stadium with the giant video board over the center of the field. “You try to study what you can on tape and see how the other quarterbacks kind of adjust some of their rhythms and mannerisms,” Brady said. “But I’m excited. I’ve heard a lot of great things about this stadium, so it will be fun to play in it.”
NO DUNBAR: The Dallas offense was already struggling without Romo and Bryant, who could return after next week’s bye. But the loss of Lance Dunbar to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee presents another challenge. He was Weeden’s favorite for underneath throws and led the NFL in yards receiving for a running back through three weeks.
TIGHT END SHOWDOWN: Witten (59 touchdowns receiving) and Gronkowski (58) are both on the verge of joining Tony Gonzalez (111), Antonio Gates (99), Shannon Sharpe (62) and Jerry Smith (60) as the only tight ends with at least 60 for their career. At 68 straight games with at least one catch, Gronkowski is 39 games behind Witten, the active leader among tight ends at 107. “I’ve been watching him ever since I’ve been in high school, college,” Gronkowski said.
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