Phillips: Romo's Time Off Has Validated His Value, But This Must Be A Team Rally

IRVING, Texas – No big deal. Just win seven in a row, Tony.

For many, that's probably the broad view of the Dallas Cowboys' remaining 2015 season which now stands at 2-7, incredibly frustrating but equally implausibly only two games behind the first-place Giants in the NFC East loss column.

Romo's eligible to return from the injured reserve/designated to return list this week, and the playoffs, mathematically, aren't out of reach despite this current seven-game losing streak.

The micro view? Forget about a seven-game winning streak from now till the fourth day of 2016. They've got to win a game first.

Let's get more micro than that. They've got to score a touchdown. The offense hasn't in three of the last five losses. The last time they've been denied the end zone that often was 2001 – four games without a touchdown.

If Romo indeed starts Sunday at Miami – signs point to his return with a good upcoming week of practice – one would think he'll help in that area. The guy has thrown a touchdown pass in all but 11 of his 123 career starts.

"We believe that everything is on schedule for him to be able to go through a normal week of practice this week," Jason Garrett said Monday, and for Romo, that has meant resting on Wednesdays and practicing the final two days leading up to a game.

That's good news, and the understatement of this half-completed season is that the team has missed their franchise quarterback.

But, ignoring the team-wide struggles without him – offense, but also defense and special teams – and expecting a gloriously improbable run to the division title with him, is a slight to the foundation of football.

It's a team game.

If it wasn't, if it was all about Romo's greatness, he would have willed this franchise to a few Super Bowls by now. This is a 53-man operation.

I've been a proud Romo apologist for nine years, trying to convince people that this guy has been one of the better players in our league for a long time. If there's any blue-and-silver lining to this seven-game slide, it's the reluctant recognition of Romo's talents by his detractors.

I'd hate to stall all that progress over these next seven weeks. But I'm curious whether Romo must play flawlessly, and this team now must finish the season with damn near a perfect record, for him to fully validate the magnitude of his absence since Week 2.

He's a valuable piece to this puzzle. But the play of his backups, Brandon Weeden and most recently Matt Cassel, is not the sole reason the Cowboys sit tied with the Lions for the fewest wins in the NFC.

Yes, there are those three games without a touchdown, and there are the red zone struggles. Another missed opportunity in Sunday's loss to the Bucs brings their red zone touchdown rate these last seven games to 50 percent (9 of 18). Last year with Romo, their conversion rate was 64.7 percent (33 of 51).

Even when they're perfect inside the 20, like 3-for-3 against the Eagles on Nov. 8, Cassel spots Philly seven points with a pick-six and the Cowboys lose by six.

There are also the takeaways, or lack thereof, on defense. The Cowboys have six this season. Their opponents have 14 against them. This time last year, the Dallas defense had forced 14 on its way to 31, the league's second-highest total.

Even when they win the turnover battle, as they did Sunday with a pair of Jeff Heath interceptions, their outstanding kicker, Dan Bailey, misses a 48-yard field goal try in the second quarter. Instead of driving for a field goal to win the game on the final drive, Cassel's last pass was a 55-yarder for Dez Bryant that got intercepted.

See where I'm going? There's more to it than No. 9.

"Certainly, when you bring a player like Tony Romo back in, there's an expectation he's going to make a positive difference for your team," Garrett said. "But if we feel like just because Tony is back everything is good, that's the wrong approach."

It's also worth noting, as maddening as these seven losses have been for the team and the fans, they lost five of them by 24 total points. Only two (Falcons and Patriots) were by double digits. Two (Saints and Eagles) went to overtime and the last three (Seahawks, Eagles, Bucs) were decided on the final drive.

That probably makes you wince more than smile. But it means even without Romo, they've been close. They just haven't finished.

Will his return, presumably this Sunday, help?

Well, it certainly couldn't hurt.

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