ARLINGTON, Texas – The capacity crowd at AT&T Stadium buzzed when Tony Romo returned to the Cowboys' sideline – it downright roared when he returned to the field in a tie game.
It seemed like another too-good-to-be true storyline that the NFL consistently seems to produce. Romo, who underwent back surgery just 10 months ago, took a hard shot to his back when the Washington Redskins sacked him for the fourth of five times.
"Even if I hadn't had back surgery, I would still probably feel that one pretty good. It was just a direct hit right there," Romo said.
The Cowboys' veteran quarterback lay motionless on the field for upward of five minutes, and the stadium around him felt hushed as backup Brandon Weeden fought Dallas back to tie a sloppy game, 17-17.
It roared to a crescendo when Romo returned, however – a tied game, two minutes remaining and 97 yards to go. The injury, classified as a back contusion, wouldn't be enough to keep him out.
"Talking to the doctors and the trainers and then talking to Tony about how he was and he was able to move around on the sidelines. It seemed like he was going to be able to function," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.
If it was a storybook setup, though, the outcome was a dose of brutal reality. The Cowboys' attempt at a game-winning drive went just 19 yards, and it featured another Washington sack and an intentional grounding flag on Romo – a result of the Redskins' relentless pressure.
"They made some critical sacks and critical disruptions on third downs at key moments that didn't allow us to keep drives alive," Garrett said.
Overtime was no different. After Colt McCoy drove Washington 58 yards to take a 20-17 lead on a 40-yard field goal, the Cowboys had a drive of their own to tie or win. They managed four plays and gained just seven yards – with a play selection of one run to three passes.
"One of our goals was to use play action on second down," said offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. "The whole idea was if it wasn't there, we were going to check down. I don't know what happened. I'm probably going to wish I had run the ball on the second play, but that's the way the game goes sometimes."
Much like their last loss, all the way back on Sept. 7, the Cowboys likely wouldn't have been in such an unfavorable position without a slew of mistakes. They allowed a 37-yard punt return to set up Washington's first field goal of the night; Joseph Randle compounded that by losing a fumble on the Dallas 9-yard line just 10 minutes later.
DeMarco Murray's gaffe will be best remembered. At the tail end of a 36-yard gain into the Washington red zone, he lost his fifth fumble of the season on the Redskins' 10-yard line – cancelling out an opportunity to take an early lead.
"Any time you give the ball up, you're obviously eliminating an opportunity to score yourselves. There aren't that many drives in a game," Garrett said. "Those two early turnovers hurt us, hurt our scoring chances early, and we're playing catch up from there on."
The miscues go on. Four of Washington's five sacks came on critical third downs, killing Cowboys' drive in the process. On another third down, Weeden found Dez Bryant for what would have been the wideout's second touchdown of the night – only for Bryant to drop the ball.
"We let one slip away," Bryant said. "We've got to look at ourselves in this one, we did this as a team…We let one slip away."
That can just as easily be applied to the Dallas defense. They were put in some bad situations, but the Cowboys' defenders didn't showcase the same soundness that has characterized them this season. Missed tackles and broken coverages were a theme on the night, as Washington racked up 409 yards of offense.
The Washington Redskins meet the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Although he did throw a red zone interception, McCoy was particularly effective. He completed 83 percent of his passes for 299 yards, and he rushed for a touchdown of his own. While the Cowboys' offense repeatedly stalled, McCoy's offense controlled the clock for 38 minutes on the night.
"We found a way to play well in the second half, and we started converting on third downs and found a way to stay on the field, and that is huge against a football who is 6-1 and leading our division," McCoy said.
It's fair to say things could be worse. Romo might not have gotten the storybook finish he wanted, but his ability to finish the game at all is sure to please those in the Dallas locker room. It won't make the loss any less disappointing, but it might make short week of preparation for Arizona a bit more encouraging.
[embeddedad0]"We are disappointed about this game, but at the same point we are going to have figure out a way to turn around in 24 hours and get ready for our next game," Romo said. "Obviously with the injury aspect of it, you feel like you may have dodged one in that regard."