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Spagnola: Forget Bus Driver, Romo Back In Top Gun Seat


ARLINGTON, Texas – For those who permitted these words to pass through their lips, Tony Romo has become a bus driver, *or Romo, at age 34 and coming off back surgery, will be no more than a *complementary piece to this Cowboys offense, this Sunday's for you:

         Romo completes 28 of 41 passes attempts, 68 percent.

         Romo throws for 324 yards, just shy of a robust eight yards per attempt.

         Romo completes two touchdown passes, and if not for a drop, likely would have thrown a third.

         Romo, the 27-year-old version, deftly sidesteps J.J. Watt, the best defensive player on the planet, spins out in a way the wary aforementioned had concluded they'd never see again, and tosses up a 43-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams.

         Romo, supposedly having lost arm strength or the ability to torque his back, throws up a 37-yard prayer to a leaping Dez Bryant for 37 yards while backing up and throwing off his back foot with D.J. Swearinger about to slam him to the ground, setting up Dan Bailey's game-winning 49-yard field goal in overtime for a Cowboys' ugly 20-17 victory that in the end was a beauty over a gritty bunch of Houston Texans here at a far too hospitable AT&T Stadium.

         Yeah, drive that.

         Everyone take a Romo Day on Wednesday.

         Yep, for the past three Wednesdays Romo has backed off his weekly workload, basically coming in for meetings, participating in the walk-through segment of practice, spending time in the weight room continuing his rehab routine, heading out to watch the team portions of practice and then back to the meetings.

         There might have been this notion he had been spending Wednesday's back at the house on a chaise lounge chair at the pool. Au contraire.

         The Cowboys just might be on to something.

         And they certainly are on this four-game winning streak, the only NFL team having won four straight this season – their first four-game winning streak since 2011 and first 4-1 start to a season since 2008 – and are one of just three teams with a 4-1 record no matter if these wins haven't been totally dominating.

         Doesn't matter, they're wins, the bottom line in the NFL these days, and for affirmation consider what Texans head coach Bill O'Brien had to say after his team's gallant fourth-quarter comeback to force overtime on the road when asked to comment on the game in general, he said, "We lost."

         Welcome to the black and white world of the NFL, no pastels allowed.

         And when it comes to Romo, he has played better and better and better and better each time out, climbing right back in his top gun's seat.

         See, problem was, he threw up a clunker in the opener, giving voice to the skeptics who were insisting he'd never be what he once was following the microdiscectomy back surgery he had on Dec. 27 to repair a herniated disk. Why, after that three-interception, first-half performance in the 28-17 loss to San Francisco, he had the third-lowest passer rating in the NFL.

         Early calculated perceptions had become reality.

         But not so fast my friends, look where Romo is now, owning a 98.5 rating, ranking eighth, certainly a far cry from that opening game 60.8 efficiency rating that had him 30th out of 32 after one game.

         Sure, the Cowboys have made a commitment to running the ball, but for good reason. They can run the football, evidenced by their 800 yards rushing in five games, ranking them No. 1 in the NFL. My gosh, they had but 1,265 yards rushing just two years ago for the entire 2012 season. They are running better than anyone else in the league, averaging a healthy 160 yards a game.

         That's why they run the football, and did so again on Sunday, going for 140 yards against the Texans, led by the NFL's leading rusher DeMarco Murray's 136. With his fifth consecutive 100-yard performance to open a season, Murray has his name now in the same sentence with Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson, as in the only NFL backs to open a season with five consecutive 100-yard efforts. A sixth this Sunday against Seattle would put him in the company of only Brown, who turned that trick back in 1958.

         See there, the Cowboys don't run the ball because Romo had turned into some pedestrian bus driver, as if they were being forced to protect a deficiency.

         The Cowboys, still tied for first in the NFC East with the Eagles, would have lost this one had they had but a bus driver of a quarterback. Yes, Murray ran for the 136 yards, but it was a grinding-away 136, averaging 4.4 yards a carry, second lowest of the season, with 22 of his 31 carries for no more than 5 yards. And for the first time in five games, Murray did not run one into the end zone.

         Told you about the importance of running the ball into the end zone, if not more so than running for mere yards. And there was none of that against a stingy Texans defense, especially when Murray coughed up another one, his fourth lost fumble in five games, and this lost fumble occurring on the Cowboys' second drive, an 11-play, 56-yard excursion when converting a 3-and-1 from the 12 only to lose the ball going down at the 10.

         The Cowboys running game also somewhat failed them on their next-to-last possession of regulation, when leading, 17-10, and needing to burn the final 2:27 off the clock. Since the Texans had all three timeouts and the two-minute warning in their pocket, the Cowboys at least needed to pick up one, likely two first downs to kill the game.

         They couldn't do it, screwing up the possession when coming out of a Houston timeout after a 1-yard run and getting penalized 5 yards for delay of game. Then on third-and-2, Romo under pressure threw the ball away and got nailed for intentional grounding, forcing the Cowboys to punt from the 14.

         And wouldn't you know it, Houston drove the necessary 45 yards in four plays for the tying touchdown, eating up just 1:18 of clock, yet leaving the Cowboys 41 seconds to work with.

         Those were almost enough, Romo then completing four of five passes, moving the Cowboys to the Houston 35, but of all things, we discover Dan Bailey, he of the club-record 30 consecutively-made field goals, is human after all, missing the game-winner from 53 as the clock expired. [embedded_ad]

         No worries, though, after the Cowboys defense held, and facing a dire third-and-eight from his own 32, Romo rediscovered his Jedi powers again. While the blitzing Texans had Romo under dire duress and backpedaling, he figured, what the heck, let's throw one up to Dez, and sailed the ball high 37 yards to his left with Swearinger fixing to bury him.

         Dez leaps, double-clutches the ball with corner Johnathan Joseph's arm between his two, for the 37-yard gain to the 31, and when two Murray runs picked up a yard and lost a yard, head coach Jason Garrett figured, no sense foolin' around anymore, sending Bailey in for the 49-yard game-winner.

         Ball game.

         Hey, bus drivers, with but a 3-0 halftime lead, don't go 15-of-21 for 209 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. Bus drivers don't contort their bodies to avoid the on-coming Watt while still having the wherewithal to keep their eyes down field to find Williams in the end zone for the 43-yard TD, Garrett calling the toss, "Certainly one for the ages with Romo.

         "There's a handful of those he's had throughout his career and I think you can add that one to the list."

         And mere bus drivers don't throw that hash-mark zinger 34 yards down the field over the shoulder of unsuspecting Houston corner Elbert Mack into the arms of streaking tight end Jason Witten to set up the ensuing touchdown pass to Williams.

         You need you a top gun of a quarterback for that stuff, and the Cowboys still, without a doubt, got 'em one. Hey, come Wednesday, maybe we all take a Romo Day.

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