ARLINGTON, Texas – A perfect fairytale ending just can't seem to fall into place for Tony Romo, even when he sets the Cowboys' single-game passing record while going toe-to-toe with one of the most revered quarterbacks to ever play the game.
Romo tossed five touchdowns and threw for 506 yards Sunday against the Broncos, passing Don Meredith's single-game passing record by 46 yards and outdueling Peyton Manning for 58 minutes, but the lasting impression will be Romo's deflating late pick in a 51-48 loss to the Broncos.
"I think whenever you lose, it never feels good afterward," Romo said. "Whether we lost by 30 or three, it's still going to be a loss in the L column. So I think that's really what this game is about, and that's the disappointing thing about it."
Like so many times in his career, Romo helped the offense get in a position to win. He had the ball in his hands in a 48-48 game with 2:39 remaining. And like so many times in his career, the Dallas quarterback absorbed the typical criticism that follows when he throws a late interception in a loss.
"I told him it was his greatest game for us," said owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "And it was a big stage and it's unfortunate he didn't win it. He played well enough to win."
An offensive onslaught preceded Romo's interception in a tie game with 2:04 remaining in the fourth quarter. It was Romo's first interception of the day, and one of his only gaffes, as he helped three Cowboys players compile more than 120 receiving yards apiece.
The Cowboys needed every one of Romo's five touchdowns and 506 passing yards, as Manning and the vaunted Broncos offense were every bit the stellar attack they'd been previously this season.
Dallas opened up a quick 7-0 lead, taking the ball to start the game and marching 79 yards on 11 plays. That first drive was capped by the first of two touchdowns on the day for Dez Bryant, who tapped his feet in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard grab.
The Cowboys then forced a fumble, one of two turnovers for the Broncos on the day, and drove 45 yards in seven plays, finished off by DeMarco Murray's second rushing touchdown of the season to extend the lead to 14-0.
That wouldn't hold long.
Manning and the Broncos' offense scored touchdowns on each of their next five drives, as a 14-0 lead quickly turned into a 28-17 deficit for the Cowboys. The defense simply had no answer for all the weapons Manning got the ball out to, particularly tight end Julius Thomas, who finished with nine catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
"When our offense scores 48 points and we lose the game, defensively it's just completely unacceptable," said linebacker Sean Lee. "You've got to give the offense an unbelievable amount of credit. They played fantastic. They're the only reason we were in the game. We really let them down."
The Cowboys got their typical solid performances from Jason Witten, who scored once and had 121 receiving yards, and Bryant, who scored twice and had 141 receiving yards. But they needed more than that, and Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley were there to answer the call.
Williams finished with four catches for 151 yards and his first career touchdown, while Beasley added four catches for 47 yards and his first career touchdown. Both Williams and Beasley caught every pass thrown their way. Williams bounced back in a major way after fumbling at the end of the Chargers game.
"Terrance is gaining more and more confidence each week," said head coach Jason Garrett. "I thought he did a really good job in the San Diego game except for a couple of plays. He came back with the right mindset and demeanor."
A comeback attempt seemed nearly impossible prior to Williams' 82-yard catch and run for a score. The Broncos moved the ball at will against a Cowboys defense that allowed its third 400-yard passer of the season through five weeks, but the rookie receiver's touchdown cut the Cowboys' deficit to 35-27 and answered Wes Welker's 2-touchdown less than a minute prior.
The Cowboys' defense then held the Broncos to a field goal, and Bryant answered with his second 2-yard touchdown reception of the day. That sequence of events preceded Manning's only major mistake in the game.
Manning's first pick of the season happened to also be Morris Claiborne's first interception of the year on the Broncos' first play from scrimmage after Bryant's score. The Cowboys' defensive backs had their struggles all day, but Claiborne went up and grabbed a fade intended for Eric Decker, turning what looked at one point to be a Broncos rout into a back-and-forth second half showdown.
Romo used the field position to drive and find Witten in the end zone to take the lead. The Broncos tied it with a field goal on their next possession, which was answered by a 4-yard touchdown pass to Beasley.
"That was a run play, but by the look they gave us, he just has the option to swing it out to me if he wants to," Beasley said. "That was really a good play by Tony and the receivers outside did an outstanding job blocking. I might have got tipped, but I didn't really get touched at all."
The Cowboys could have let the Broncos score to get the ball back and tie, but they elected to give their defense a chance. A third-and-1 at the Cowboys' 2-yard line was converted for a first down, but not a touchdown. With the Cowboys out of timeouts, all the Broncos needed to do was kneel three times to set up the game-winning field goal. [embedded_ad]
The kick by Matt Prater with no time left went straight through the uprights to put the Cowboys at 2-3, sharing that record atop the division with the Eagles. A win against the undefeated Broncos would have put the Cowboys in sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
"We were a mentally tough football team to handle the success, handle the adversity, keep coming back, give ourselves a chance to go ahead and win this ballgame," Garrett said. "We didn't do enough to win the game, they did and we have to learn from it."