Romo Has Reason to Smile

Pressure Rises With QB's Stature, but All Is Well With 3-0 Cowboys

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

GREEN BAY, Wis., Sept. 22 -- Tony Romo clearly was enjoying himself here late Sunday night. The kid from Burlington, Wis., turned glitzy NFL quarterback just had helped the Dallas Cowboys to their first victory at Lambeau Field, and Romo celebrated the triumph over the Green Bay Packers in his personal homecoming game by teasing teammate Miles Austin about the size of the wide receiver's head during a postgame interview on NBC.

Romo then retreated to a podium in the bowels of the stadium and said all the right understated things during his late-night news conference. But he got in another verbal swipe, this one at himself, just before leaving when asked about the interception he had thrown while forcing a pass into the end zone toward well-covered tight end Jason Witten.

"We call that cover-four," Romo said. "Which means he was covered by four guys."

Being the quarterback of the Cowboys hasn't exactly been a ceaseless joyride for Romo. He has gone from undrafted rookie to third-string afterthought to two-time Pro Bowl selection. He has a $67.5 million contract and a personal life that's become worthy of the gossip columns.

But he endured criticism and ridicule after he dropped a snap as the holder for a would-be game-winning field goal in a first-round playoff loss at the end of the 2006 season. He went through more of the same after he was photographed vacationing in Mexico with celebrity girlfriend Jessica Simpson before last season's second-round playoff defeat at home to the New York Giants.

So glimpses of the relaxed Romo come far less frequently in public settings than when he was the low-profile backup who used to sit by his locker virtually unnoticed at the Cowboys' practice facility. His stature no longer allows it. But the playful Romo was on display off the field Sunday, and the Cowboys were pleased with what they said they saw on the field from him earlier in the evening.

The Packers double-covered wideout Terrell Owens all night and put their defensive linemen in constant pass-rush mode. Their game plan was to harass Romo into mistakes. But Romo made only one, on his ill-advised throw to Witten. Otherwise, he stood aside and let his tailbacks, Marion Barber and rookie Felix Jones, and his defense win the game for him. They did just that as the Cowboys eased to a 27-16 win that improved their record to 3-0. Romo added two long completions to Austin in the game's late stages.

"Tony never ceases to amaze me," Cowboys Coach Wade Phillips said. "He has a will to play, and if things don't go his way early, he'll fight through it and play better. . . . He's a really good quarterback, a great quarterback. It's hard to keep him down the whole time."

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Romo has toned down his on-field act since his early days as a starter.

"It's nice to see us as a team and Tony as a quarterback recognize his limitations," Jones said in the locker room late Sunday night. "They obviously set out to make him have a tough night, which is good strategy if you're playing the Dallas Cowboys. To his credit and everyone else's credit, we cranked it up there with our running game. That's nice to see. The Romo that left here, that everyone came out and remembered from Wisconsin, is not the same one that came back tonight.

"He would have tried to get out here and make all kinds of things happen rather than let his supporting cast step up and do it, and him be a role player to some degree until his shots came. . . . He's got it in him, and he'll make a play that others don't make and keep the chains moving. But it is not a four-course meal of that at all. It comes a little more appropriately, I would say."

The Cowboys are hitting on all cylinders as they ready for Sunday's meeting with the Washington Redskins at Texas Stadium. Dallas and the Giants are the NFC's only 3-0 teams.

There is a void to be filled league-wide, with cover-boy quarterback Tom Brady hurt and the New England Patriots no longer dominant. Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts are struggling, and Brett Favre is in a new city adjusting to a new team. Romo and the Cowboys could be the most likely candidates to fill the void.

"I don't know that I want to get into the dominant business here," Jones said. "I like it that we make some mistakes. To go down there a couple times against a good team and come out of there with no points or come out of there with a field goal and stay the course and win the game, that's encouraging."

The real tests will come in the playoffs. The Cowboys haven't won a postseason game since 1996. Phillips is winless in the postseason as an NFL head coach. Romo has an 0-2 playoff record as the team's starter. But that's far down the line.

For now, the Cowboys must deal with the burden of expectations that come with being the league's most imposing club in the season's early weeks.

"We have a good football team," Romo said. "I know that. But it doesn't matter if you are the favorite now or the least favorite. The reality is, you have to keep playing games. You're not trying to be the favorite in Week Three. You're trying to be it at the end of the year. All we can do is try to control what we can do today and this week. Outside of that, we can't worry about the future and stuff that's gonna happen."

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