IRVING, Texas – Wednesday, Tony Romo took his first practice reps since fracturing his left collarbone six weeks ago against the Eagles.
Don't think the 2-5 Cowboys are simply waiting out these next two games until their franchise quarterback is eligible to return to game action.
They need a win, badly.
Besides, they appear to be getting closer.
After losing 30-6 to the world champion Patriots before the bye week, the Cowboys have led or been tied in the fourth quarter the last two games. A 100-yard kickoff return by Dwayne Harris and a 24-yard Steven Hauschka field goal were the deciding difference against the Giants and Seahawks, respectively.
Five-game losing streaks aren't common for the Dallas Cowboys. They're unprecedented in the Jason Garrett era.
The franchise has endured five consecutive losses in only eight seasons. These are unusual circumstances, however, with Romo and Dez Bryant both unavailable in four of their five losses. Bryant's return last Sunday from a broken foot was a step in the right direction.
And there's this stat, whether it's encouraging or maddening: Three of the team's five losses have been decided by a grand total of 14 points.
"We've done some good things in each of these games. You go back and look at it and you try to correct it," Garrett said. "I think the fight and the relentlessness and the competitive spirit that our team has shown has been outstanding. Our team plays hard. Our team plays together. Our team plays the right way. But you have to go back as a coaching staff and evaluate what aren't we doing to win these games."
The players are doing the same on both sides of the ball.
Tight end/team captain Jason Witten says the offense isn't using attrition as an excuse. The impact of losing Romo and Bryant for any period of time really requires no explanation; Lance Dunbar's season-ending knee injury in Week 4 removed a speed element out wide and in the backfield; and this week, the team parted ways with starting running back Joseph Randle as he deals with personal matters.
At the same time, the unit must focus on what they can improve now to salvage the season while Romo waits a couple more weeks. The offense gained only 220 total yards, converted 4-of-14 red zone attempts and scored nine points on three red zone trips.
"I think we have to be critical of where we are," Witten said. "You have to take away the emotions of it and look at it as honestly as you can as players. I think that's key that you do that.
"Ultimately we haven't done enough to win games. The difference between last year's team and this year's – not that you compare – but you find ways to win those games when they're tight. You realize where we are in our division. So I think that creates some hope and knowing that we're not out of the race there. Ultimately, we have lost five in a row, and we have to play better football. So I think it goes hand in hand."
Defensively, the Cowboys have allowed 26 points in two games, including only two touchdowns. But the fourth quarter is finishing time. Seattle's winning field goal drive came with 1:06 remaining. A month ago in the Superdome, the Saints ended overtime with a wild 80-yard touchdown.
"We've got to do better," defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford said. "Yeah, we've done an alright job on defense as far as letting touchdowns in, but those key times when we need to be stout and we need to get a sack or make a big play, it hasn't happened for us. We've got to make sure our playmakers, including myself, can step it up in those key times in the game."
Greg Hardy's interception against Seattle ended a four-game takeaway drought. The Cowboys' other three forced turnovers this season came against the Eagles in Week 2. Not coincidentally, that was their last victory.
Maybe it's a good omen. Five straight losses, and yet they're only one game back in the NFC East loss column.
But in a week-to-week league, nothing's guaranteed against a talented and hungry division rival.
"We are doing a lot of good things, but there's a lot of stuff we can do better," Witten said. "And we need to do that now. The urgency and the time is now for that."