What's the old saying? A rising tide lifts all boats?
Tony Romo didn't necessarily have a great game in his return, and he didn't single-handedly carry Dallas to a 24-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins, breaking the Cowboys' debilitating seven-game losing streak.
But while he finished with only 227 yards passing, throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions, there's no doubting that Romo's presence had an impact on the whole team. With the passing game more of a threat, the ground attack opened up for 166 yards, including 129 from Darren McFadden, with the offense as a whole totaling 386 yards while dominating the time of possession, 38:50 to 21:20.
And even the defense, which has had its share of struggles over the last two months, stepped up. The unit seemingly got stronger as the game went along – as evidenced by three sacks in the fourth quarter – and limited the Dolphins to only 210 yards of total offense on the day and just 70 yards rushing.
With Mother Nature providing some challenges in the early going, Romo must have wondered just what he had got himself into when on his very first possession since returning from injury, he found himself at his own 4-yard line in an absolute downpour. And while the Cowboy were unable to do anything, the quarterback still showed some of his Jedi magic, spinning away from a would-be sacker in the end zone and throwing the ball left-handed – yes, left-handed – to McFadden for a 9-yard gain.
On the Cowboys' next series, though, Romo was able to march his team from its own 20-yard line to the Miami 12, but on third-and-6, the quarterback, under pressure threw an ugly floater to Dez Bryant that was instead picked off by Miami cornerback Brent Grimes.
But three plays later, on the first snap of the second quarter, linebacker Rolando McClain made a leaping interception of a pass from Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill at the Miami 12-yard line and ran it into the end zone untouched to give the Dallas defense its first touchdown of the season and the team a 7-0 lead in the game.
A lead that actually grew to 14-0 on the Cowboys' next series, thanks to a 93-yard drive that saw newcomer Robert Turbin rush four times for 28 yards while Romo spread the ball around with a 10-yard strike to Dez Bryant, a 19-yarder to Devin Street and then a 17-yarder to Terrance Williams. He then went back to Williams on third-and-10 at the Miami 31-yard line, throwing a beautiful pass to his receiver in the end zone to give the Cowboys their first double-digit advantage since Week 3 against Atlanta.
Unfortunately, though, it didn't last long. Williams and Bryant were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, which pushed the ensuing kickoff back to the Cowboys' 20-yard line. With Dan Bailey then unexpectedly kicking short that gave Miami field position at their own 46.
After Tannehill hit Jarvis Landry for a 47-yard strike, he then wrapped up the quick series with a 12-yard connection to tight end Jason Cameron, Miami narrowing the score to 14-7 at the half.
And when the Dolphins then tied the game midway through the third quarter on a 29-yard Tannehill to Kenny Still completion, that penalty following the Cowboys' second touchdown seemed like a devastating momentum-changer.
But perhaps that's the difference between having Romo behind center and having the likes of Matt Cassel or Brandon Weeden. The Cowboys reclaimed command of the game by proceeding to put points on the board on their next two possessions.
Dallas found the end zone again on an 8 play, 80-yard drive, Romo finishing things off with a 16-yard strike to Bryant on the opening play of the fourth quarter. He then took advantage of a short field and set Bailey up for a 30-yard field goal, the Cowboys now up 24-14, which were all the points they would need.
With the victory, coupled with losses by the Eagles and Redskins and the Giants on their bye week, the Cowboys inched closer in the standings of the weak NFC East. They'll now face perhaps their biggest obstacle in coming back to capture the division when they host the undefeated Carolina Panthers in the annual Thanksgiving game at 3:30 on Thursday.