Tony Romo led the Dallas Cowboys to a comeback victory Sunday that kept their playoff hopes alive. The Cowboys need an even bigger comeback from Romo this week.
An MRI on Romo’s back did not offer good news Monday: He has a herniated disk that could require surgery, according to a source.
The Cowboys, even while refusing to rule out Romo for Sunday’s win-or-go-home game against the Philadelphia Eagles, are making backup plans.
Kyle Orton, whose last start was Jan. 1, 2012, for the Kansas City Chiefs, is the Cowboys’ likely starter Sunday. Dallas will sign a veteran quarterback Tuesday since it has no other quarterbacks on its active or practice rosters. Tyler Thigpen, John Skelton and David Carr will work out at Valley Ranch on Tuesday, a source said.
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“Obviously, you hope that’s not the case,” tight end Jason Witten said of Romo being out for the season. “Tony is a big part of everything we try to do as a football team and obviously as an offense. He’s been pretty resilient, and I know he’ll do everything he can to get back. … But Kyle has played at a high level and had a lot of success in the league, so he’s somebody we respect.”
Romo’s back was sore last week, though he never appeared on the injury report. He said after Sunday’s season-saving victory over the Washington Redskins that it began to bother him after a hit in the first half. He was in obvious pain after tripping over Rob Jackson’s foot in the fourth quarter, limping back to the huddle after completing a 9-yard pass to Miles Austin.
Romo never missed a snap in completing 17 of 27 passes for 222 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the 24-23 victory over the Redskins. The winning touchdown came on a 10-yard pass to DeMarco Murray on fourth-and-goal with 1:08 to play.
“He did an amazing job in the game, fighting through this injury and playing really, really well, playing at a high level and really giving us a great chance to win that ballgame, an important game for us,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Monday.
Romo’s injury is unrelated to the cyst he had removed from his back in April. That injury kept him out of the team’s off-season workouts.
The Cowboys, though, would not confirm Romo is out for the season. Sources do acknowledge he will be hard pressed to play again this season.
Romo, who is 63-45 in his career in the regular season, has completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 3,828 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season. His passer rating of 96.7 ranks eighth in the league.
“Tony is getting some rehab [Monday] and over the course of the week, and we will evaluate it day by day and hopefully he will be available to us,” Garrett said.
Romo has played through serious injury previously. In a 2011 game against the San Francisco 49ers, he fractured a rib and later learned he had punctured a lung while leading the Cowboys to victory. He had a hand injury in Week 16 of that season but returned the following week in an elimination game against the New York Giants. Last season, he hurt his ribs in the season-ending, Week 17 loss to the Redskins.
“A lot of times you lose sight of that — what Tony is all about, the kind of toughness that he shows day in and day out not only mentally but physically,” Witten said. “You just commend him, how he approaches it, just his resiliency to find a way, and he’s so good in those situations and kind of putting the team on his back.”
Witten didn’t intend to phrase his comment that way.
Orton, 31, likely will be the quarterback doing the heavy lifting Sunday. The Cowboys signed him to a three-year, $10.5 million deal with a $5 million signing bonus before the 2012 season as an insurance policy.
He is 35-34 in his career as a starter but has played only three games — all in mop-up duty — since Dallas signed him. Orton was 17 of 22 for 158 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the preseason.
“We’ve liked Kyle for a long time,” Garrett said. “ … He plays the quarterback position the way it’s supposed to be played. … He prepares every week as if he’s the starter. That’s the feeling that his teammates get. That’s the feeling that his coaches get.”
Dallas is 6-7 in the 13 games they have played without Romo since he became the starter in 2006.