ARLINGTON, Texas – The image was nearly identical 67 days ago in Philadelphia: Tony Romo lying on his back, clutching his left shoulder with his right arm in obvious pain.
Romo injured his left collarbone for the second time in as many months in the third quarter of the Cowboys' 33-14 Thanksgiving Day loss to the Carolina Panthers at AT&T Stadium. The team said after the game that X-rays were inconclusive and the veteran quarterback will undergo further tests Friday to determine the extent of the injury.
Romo suffered a fracture to his left collarbone Sept. 20 against the Eagles that did not require surgery. He spent the next eight weeks on the injured reserve/designated to return list and made his return five days ago in the Cowboys' 24-14 victory over the Dolphins.
"It's in the same shoulder that he was out 5-6 weeks for," team owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "That is a concern from the standpoint of the games ahead. We just need more information."
Wearing a sling in his postgame press conference Thursday night, Romo said his shoulder has "a similar type feeling" to the first injury.
"It doesn't feel right, so we'll see," he said.
With only five games remaining, another fracture (recovery time normally a minimum of 6-8 weeks) would likely mean the end of Romo's season. At 3-8, losing Romo for any length of time would further damage the Cowboys' fading playoff hopes. They lost all seven games without him earlier in the season, splitting quarterback starts between Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel.
Playing his second game in five days following the eight-week layoff, Romo had his share of struggles before the injury. His second pass of the game got picked off by safety Kurt Coleman and returned 36 yards for a touchdown – the first of two pick-six plays by Carolina.
In all, Romo completed only 11 of 21 passes for 106 yards, and his three interceptions led to 17 of the Panthers' 23 points in the first half.
Clearly, rust was still a factor.
"It was tough. I worked hard to come back and get myself acclimated to the game," Romo said. "In some ways, I just couldn't quite get myself into the right mental framework. When I say that, I mean the way that I am used to playing. It takes a little time.
"Some of the poor decisions that were made were just uncharacteristic and very frustrating. It cost our team today and put us in a big hole. You can't do that against good football teams and I am disappointed that I couldn't play better."
Then came the final play of the third quarter, when Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis drove Romo to the turf on a sack for a 10-yard loss. After spending several minutes on the ground, he left the field with assistance from team athletic trainers.
Cassel replaced Romo in fourth quarter, but by then Carolina (11-0) already had a commanding 30-6 lead. Cassel completed 13 of 19 passes for 93 yards and a late touchdown to Cole Beasley.
As the only backup on the 53-man roster – the team waived Weeden two weeks ago, and Kellen Moore is currently on the practice squad -- Cassel would be next in line to start Week 13 against the Redskins. In three starts earlier this season, Cassel completed 74 of 120 passes for 809 yards, 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions for a 75.3 rating.
Only five days after getting their franchise player back on the field, the Cowboys face the possibility of playing without Romo yet again going forward.
"Hate to see that happen," tight end Jason Witten said. "It's tough luck for him and our team. He's fought his way back and he's worked very hard. It's disappointing to see that happen. We'll adjust and see where he is next week."