The Secret To Tony Romo

walked (into the locker room) before the game and it was as this was a final he was studying the game plan, the notes he had written so hard. I was thinking, 'Man, I hope he's not too uptight.'

"That's a difference maker."

A huge difference maker.

Because if the Cowboys aren't scoring 37 points, they very well could have lost this game, even if Green Bay's Brett Favre was knocked out of the game in the second quarter or the Packers (10-2) were forced to play with cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Why, the quarterback who had thrown only two passes this year, Aaron Rodgers, comes in for the future Hall of Famer Favre to complete 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown. The running back, Ryan Grant, starting just his sixth NFL game, goes 62 yards for a touchdown.

Yet, the Cowboys win, clinch an NFC playoff spot, could clinch the NFC East if the Bears should beat the Giants on Sunday, have eliminated the Redskins and Eagles from NFC East title contention and essentially have a two-game lead now over the Packers for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

"I don't know if he's the next American Idol, but he played really well and answered the bell," Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips said. "I think a lot of people here had seen him play when people said he might not have concentration on this, or his contract or he might have a let down because his hero is playing and all of those things, and he hadn't done it a bit.

"I just can't say enough about our quarterback."

And while Romo threw two touchdown passes to Patrick Crayton and one each to Fasano and Owens totaling 33 this season to shatter White's single-season record with four games still to play, his biggest pass of the game - maybe the biggest play of the game - was worth but a first down . . . a huge first down.

Here the Cowboys were, leading only 27-24 with 3:04 left in the third quarter. Thanks to a false start, an unenviable third-and-14 at the 16 had turned into a third-and-19 at the 11. And at that point the Cowboys had yet to convert a third down, sitting there oh-for-four. Punt here, and here come the Packers, driving for the lead.

"We have an old expression," Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said, "and it's 'Don't look at the scoreboard. Just play.'"

The Cowboys went three wide receivers. Owens and Crayton lined up left. Owens shot up the field and in, the Cowboys catching the Packers in zone. Romo stared Owens down, and for sure the Packers were going to jump his way, considering Owens would end up with seven catches for 156 yards. But Romo was patient. He read out the play, and oh my, there was Crayton all by himself curling to the left sideline, catching a 35-yard pass for the first down to the Green Bay 46.

No matter the possession would end with Owens' dropped touchdown pass in the end zone that was intercepted, that drive would run another five minutes off the clock, the Packers taking over at their own 20 instead of possibly midfield. Teams just don't regularly pick up third-and-19's with the game on the line.

"He's a natural competitor," Garrett said. "He just keeps playing. Just regroups and keeps playing. That's a good quality for a quarterback to have."

You bet. And you know what? I now have a sneaky suspicion where he gets that quality from.

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