Keeping Hope Alive Romo Can Somehow Play On Sunday

By MICKEY SPAGNOLA

DallasCowboys.com Columnist

IRVING, Texas – Tony Romo did on practice on Wednesday.

         Tony Romo did not practice on Thursday.

         Tony Romo did not practice on Friday.

         Tony Romo on the official NFL injury report for Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals, noon, AT&T Stadium, is being listed as questionable.

            If we should dabble in deductive reasoning, we'd have to come up with a designation somewhere between the 50-percent chance of playing questionable and the 25-percent chance of playing doubtful.

         So since we're not official, and will not officially find out if Romo is playing in Sunday's game against the 6-1 Cardinals, now officially tied with Denver for the best winning percentage in the NFL, until 10:30 a.m. Sunday when the official list of seven inactives must be turned in to the officials, let's list his chances of playing as highly questionable, at least keeping hope alive.

         "We've still got about 48 hours to the game," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said Friday, "so we're going to give him every chance."

         So highly questionable sounds about right, doesn't it? And a tad better than doubtful, unless of course all the king's horses and all the king's men, along with Doc Dossett, can do a better job putting Romo back together again than they did following Humpty's great fall.

         That means we must think, just as the in-limbo Cowboys prepared all week long, that Brandon Weeden, this is your game. And this time, for better or worse, until those official 60 minutes have expired.

         And understand, this is all new to him. Sure Weeden, with his two-series relief appearance this past Monday in the Cowboys' 20-17 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins, at least got his feet wet in 2014. That was the 24th time he had played during his now three-year NFL career, with 20 of those appearances having been starts.

         Heck, the last time he had actually played in a game until Monday night was on Dec. 1, 2013. Gosh, that was 11 months ago. So that he finished those two series four-of-six for 69 yards, one touchdown (should have been two) and a 145.1 passer rating should give him, the Cowboys and even you some confidence if called upon Sunday that disaster isn't looming. Especially since he drove the Cowboys to a field goal (should have been a touchdown had Dez Bryant not dropped the slant from the 3-yard line in the end zone) and a touchdown.

         He has a baseball strong arm. He's smart. He has good instincts. You saw all that on his touchdown pass Monday night to Jason Witten, when he was patient enough to wait on Dwayne Harris to clear out the corner and safety on his way deep, allowing Witten to cut underneath the route wide open.

         He just needs to read coverages accurately, make good decisions and not think this entire game is on his shoulders. Keep the game in perspective, or as he said earlier in the week, "My job is to keep this train on the tracks, keep it rolling along."

         My guess is backup quarterbacks can be their own worst enemies, unless they are salty veterans, sort of like a Jon Kitna, who recognized and was resigned to his station in the NFL at that point in his career. His starting days were over and now just an EQ – emergency quarterback.

         Because, and you know it, a lot of upwardly-mobile quarterbacks, young guys, likely go into a fortuitous start with the idea of having to prove themselves. To show the league, hey, I got it. I'm good enough for someone to consider me a starter. Probably put way too much pressure on themselves by thinking, man, this is my big chance.

         Especially guys on a short leash, er, contract.

         Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett understands those dynamics. He rose to backup status with the Cowboys. Got his first start in 1993, Nov. 14 against Phoenix with Troy Aikman sidelined. Started again Thanksgiving Day 1994 against Green Bay. Though the Cowboys won both games, that did not stop them from acquiring Bernie Kosar in 1993, who took over for Garrett in that game and then started the next one, along with signing Rodney Peete as the backup for the 1994 season.

         And just because Garrett put a second-half thumping on Green Bay that day in 1994 with Aikman and Peete sidelined with injuries, throwing for 311 yards in the 42-31 victory, the Cowboys still brought in Wade Wilson in 1995 as the veteran backup. Not until 1998 and 1999 did the Cowboys lean on Garrett as their No. 2 quarterback, actually starting five games for the injured Aikman in 1998, the Cowboys going 3-2 in those outings. Garrett finished out his career as a backup with the Giants from 2000-03, with cups of coffee in 2004 with Tampa Bay and Miami.

         The reason he lasted so long as a backup? Coaches trusted him.

         "I think the biggest thing is to do your job, and you really have to focus on that, and that's an emphasis for our entire team," Garrett said of what the backup's mindset needs to be. "Everybody has a job to do on every play, and what you need to do is focus on doing your job … and do it again and again and again.

"I think when you come in in that kind of situation, the worst thing you can do is say, 'I'm going to prove to the world my worth, my value.' You need to go do your job, break the huddle, get to the line of scrimmage. If it's a handoff, hand the ball off the right way. If it's a pass, read the coverage the right way and throw to the right guy and get on to the next one, then do that again and again and again.

"You really have to stay focused on the now, stay focused on one play at a time. Typically if you do that you'll play your best football."

         Weeden seems to understand, pointing out "I've been a starter before," downplaying the possible chance of making his first start for the Cowboys or in 11 months on Sunday. And as backups go, he has to be as prepared as any can be, having taken all the first-team snaps in the offseason with Romo still rehabbing from backup surgery; then taking all the first-teams reps on those training camp days Romo sat out for precautionary reasons; taking all the Wednesday first-team reps on those "Romo Days" during the first eight weeks of this season; and then this week getting all the first-team reps all three days of practice.

         "If you put more pressure on yourself you can't function," Weeden reasons.

         Since Romo became the Cowboys starter 10 games into the 2006 season he has missed 14 of a possible 130 starts. The Cowboys are 6-8 in those games, and 0-4 in games he did not finish since he actually did manage to finish this past game, but barely.

         Nothing against Weeden, but maybe that is why the Cowboys are holding out hope he can arise from the DNP list to start on Sunday. We will officially know if he can pull that off at 10:30 a.m. (CT) Sunday.

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