This Gutty Performance Keeps Hope Alive

just a seven-point lead but having to cover a kickoff again and giving the Redskins another breath of life.

But instead, on that fourth-and-one from the Washington 17, he smothered the Redskins for good, handing the ball to Barber on a perfectly called outside run when the Redskins lined up in a goal-line defense, bracing for yet another Barber burst up the middle.

Gotcha.

"Know what I was thinking before we ran that play," Cowboys guard Leonard Davis asked rhetorically, "I was thinking I knew we were going to get the first down because of the play we called and how they lined up. There was no way we couldn't get the first down."

But maybe most impressive this Sunday night was the mental toughness of this Cowboys team, something that has been questioned over the first nine games of the season, and especially during this excruciating stretch of losing two of the past three games and three of the past four, falling from three games over .500 to start the season (3-0) to 5-4 and playing a game to stave off potential mental elimination from this playoff race had they lost this game.

Look, these Cowboys, whose wills have been questioned, too, could have tucked tail after the Redskins opened the game with a 49-yard touchdown drive after holding the Cowboys to a distressing three-and-out in Romo's first series in more than a month.

And they could have put their head on a soft pillow after Romo had not one, but two passes intercepted inside the Washington 30-yard line just when they appeared to be marching downfield to get back in the game. Not only that, how demoralizing must it have been after finally scoring a touchdown with just 1:01 left in the first half to tie the game and then giving up a 58-yard kickoff return to set up a half-ending Washington field goal?

There the Cowboys were heading into halftime, having dominated the game with 193 yards to Washington's 106, having recorded two sacks of Jason Campbell while giving up none of their own, dominating the time of possession, and yet trailed 10-7.

"The key thing was to stay with it and come back," said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who afterward when walking outside the stadium to his awaiting van was showered with chants of "Jerry, Jerry" from about 200 Cowboys fans huddled along the fence by the team buses.

That they did by making clutch plays, like Newman's interception to end Washington's second half-opening drive at the Cowboys 33 and Jay Ratliff's sack of Campbell on third-and-13 from the Dallas 20, costing the Redskins eight yards - just enough for Shaun Suisham's 46-yard field-goal attempt into that wind to come up just short.

But let's face it, just maybe this defense played such inspired football and just maybe this offense, which had averaged just 13.7 points a game in Romo's three-game absence with the fractured finger, didn't hang its head because, well, Romo was there. The Cowboys simply believed their Pro Bowl quarterback would somehow figured out a way.

Darn if he didn't.

And look, don't think Romo played this game without some amount of pain. He wouldn't openly admit it, but he did. Snaps with a broken finger, even if there is a splint giving him some protection and some support, are painful. Any time he fell to the ground, jostling the fracture? Painful. Heck, he even had to remember to high-five guys with his left hand. He knew better than to use his right.

Yet he managed to complete 19 of 27 passes, including the one 25-yarder for a touchdown and another 25-yarder to Terrell Owens to set up Barber's two-yard touchdown run. He seemingly deftly checked into proper plays at the line of scrimmage and never lost his cool - or his nerve - after throwing behind Owens on a slant for one interception and having a slant thrown to Owens get knocked up into the air by a jarring tackle for another.

And even after missing a wide open Witten on a second-and-seven from the Washington 33, and having the next play breaking down and the pocket collapsing, Romo produced visions of his former Peter Pan self, moving up in the pocket and at the last second shoveling a pass to Miles Austin for an eight-yard

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