ST. LOUIS – He took the snap, looked right, stayed right and then fired. Then he took off running to no avail because his pass was going the other way for a touchdown. Not just any touchdown, but the third of the day for the Rams.
If the Cowboys were in a boxing match, they found themselves getting jabbed and hooked for two rounds with a possible knockdown.
But this Tony Romo interception was a haymaker that floored this team to the point that it didn't seem the Cowboys had a real chance of getting up.
Late in the second quarter and it's 21-0 Rams, and all I can think about is how long of a week this is going to be.
More talk about Romo not being himself. Probably talk about it's time for the Cowboys to move on and that this 34-year-old with two back surgeries in the last two years just can't get it done anymore.
And then, it happened. Miraculously, the Cowboys got up, put their mouthpiece back in and went to work. A jab here, a 1-2 combo there and before we knew it, Romo and the Cowboys weren't just blocking punches, but starting to throw them as well.
It started with just a routine 8-yard pass over the middle to Jason Witten that gave Dallas a first down. While it appeared to be just a routine play, it stopped the bleeding and allowed the Cowboys to turn it up on offense and eventually get on the board.
We all know what happened as the game wore on – the Cowboys scratched and clawed their way back to win this hard-fought contest, 34-31, at the Edward Jones Dome.
So what did a game like this prove? Is beating the Rams on the road really a great accomplishment?
The answer to that is simple: definitely.
It's a huge win because the Cowboys showed they have the ability to stick to their plan. Call it patience or maybe resolve, or a combination of the two, but the Cowboys never panicked. The drive that started with a Witten first down, also included big runs from DeMarco Murray and a clutch pass interference penalty on the Rams trying to stick with Cole Beasley. Murray finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
But the 21-0 lead was now 21-7 because the Cowboys didn't get cute. Romo stuck with the plan, as did the play-caller Scott Linehan, and the touchdown just turned the tide and got the Cowboys back in the game.
A lot of that was on Romo, who has been criticized at times for getting check-happy when things aren't going well, and he abandons the run, too. Not this time, though. Sure, the defense started making more stops, but the offense stayed balanced from start to finish to get back in the game.
Of the 52 plays the Cowboys ran on Sunday, 29 were runs, to just 23 passes.
Now, one of those runs was supposed to be a pass – and frankly – that might have been the biggest play of the game. Who knows, it might be bigger than that as the season unfolds.
But on third-and-13 at the Cowboys' 13 early in the fourth quarter, Romo went through his reads and didn't like what he saw with the routes. Whether he liked the huge hole that developed right in his face or not, he had no choice but to take off and run.
From the press box, I said out loud to my colleagues as he took off, "be a football player."
That's no knock on Romo, it's just that we've seen a hesitant, duck-under-the-defenders, quick to get the ball out of his hand quarterback who certainly wasn't interested in running with the ball. But at this stage of the game, Romo had to be a football player.
No dump-off passes, no sliding. This was an opportunity to get a first down and help this team keep the ball. So Romo took off, tucked the ball high and tight and even made a nice open-field move to get more yards for the first down. That was huge because the Cowboys eventually scored the go-ahead touchdown.
But it might even be bigger than that. We've been hearing all along that Romo is going to be fine. He has said he's fine and the coaches have said he's fine. But in the first two games, he wasn't playing fine.
That changed on Sunday. Romo showed us the ability to play the way we've seen in the past. In fact, head coach Jason Garrett was quick to utter the same thoughts.
"At first glance, from my vantage point, it looked like he was more himself in this ballgame," Garrett said. "Thought he made some throws down the field – spontaneous throws where he had to move around in the pocket, check his eyes down the field – and really looked like himself. Obviously, the big third down run later in the game was huge for us."
Romo playing like that was huge, too. [embedded_ad]
Not saying he won't have 350-yard passing days again, but that's probably not going to be the best thing for this team. A game like this one – 18 of 23 passing for 217 yards and two touchdowns, one interception – is what this team needs. Obviously, the team can do without the pick, especially returned for a score. But after getting sacked four times last week in Tennessee, Romo wasn't sacked at all Sunday. The offensive line deserves a lot of credit, but so does Romo, who showed his quick feet and craftiness in the pocket again.
The ability to play a game like that, despite falling down by 21 points, is a sure sign of growth for Romo.
The T-shirts from training camp had a one-word message for this team: fight.
The Cowboys found themselves in one on Sunday. Thanks to their quarterback, they figured out not only how to fight back, but also how to remain standing in the end.