September 19, 2011

Victory a painkiller for banged-up Cowboys

Tony Romo promised all week that he would learn from his mistakes and deliver against the 49ers. He just didn't know it would come in such dramatic and painful fashion.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Tony Romo may or may not be a clutch, championship performer.

That debate will rage until the Dallas Cowboys quarterback wins something substantial in the postseason.

But what can't be questioned about Romo after Sunday's 27-24 overtime victory against the San Francisco 49ers are his heart, competiveness and toughness.

Sidelined in the third quarter by a rib fracture suffered on the third play of the game, Romo returned and led the Cowboys to a thrilling come-from-behind victory.

With the Cowboys trailing 24-14 late in the third quarter, an ailing Romo persuaded coach Jason Garrett to let him back in the game.

He then tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin midway through the fourth quarter and put the Cowboys in position for a 48-yard game-tying field goal by rookie Dan Bailey on the last play of regulation.

The first time the Cowboys got the ball in overtime, Romo connected with fourth-string receiver Jesse Holley, mostly known for the Fourth and Long reality television series, on a 77-yard pass to the 1-yard line.

Bailey sent the Cowboys' sideline into euphoria with a 19-yard, game-winning field goal.

It was quite a turn of events for Cowboys and Romo, who went from goat to hero after being criticized nationally for much of the past week for his inability to come through in the clutch after committing two turnovers in the fourth quarter of a season-opening loss to the New York Jets.

Romo promised all week that he would learn from his mistakes and deliver against the 49ers. He just didn't know it would come in such dramatic and painful fashion.

"I didn't want to be 0-2," said Romo, who completed 20 of 33 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns, including 12 of 16 for 201 yards after returning from injury.

"It's about winning and losing, and we needed to win. If I can play, I'm going to play. A lot of people have all the answers after a week; one week does not write your season. You have to learn and relish the opportunity like today when you get back out there. You are excited about being in the moment and having the ball in your hands."

For a Cowboys team that began last season 0-2 en route to a 1-7 start and 6-10 finish, the season also was in his hands.

It's one reason owner Jerry Jones delivered a kiss to the temple of a still-in-pain Romo in the postgame locker room.

Jones admitted that Romo needed the Hollywood ending from a perception standpoint. And that's in addition to his owner admitting that he had already given up.

"I was feeling low and feeling like we weren't going to get it done," Jones said. "My team felt the opposite."

The Cowboys got the win thanks to Romo's heroics, but there were many other contributors.

Not only did the Cowboys have to rally from a 14-0 first-half deficit and a 24-14 hole in the fourth quarter, they also had to overcome two interceptions from backup quarterback Jon Kitna, a missed 21-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter by Bailey, early gaffes on defense that allowed the 49ers to convert eight of 10 third downs in the first half and a plethora of other injuries.

Tight end Jason Witten played through bruised ribs. Running back Felix Jones was knocked out of the game with a separated shoulder. The Cowboys were without four offensive starters on the last play of the game. Receiver Dez Bryant didn't play due to a bruised thigh. Center Phil Costa suffered a knee injury and was replaced by rookie Kevin Kowalski.

Austin, who kept the Cowboys in the game with nine catches for 143 yards and three touchdowns, was sidelined by a hamstring injury, putting Holley on the field.

Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760

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