Jerry Jones believes in Kyle Orton. It’s why the Dallas Cowboys gave the veteran quarterback a $5 million signing bonus before the 2012 season, and why the team owner remains upbeat even with the likelihood his starting quarterback won’t play in Sunday’s elimination game.
“This is exactly the circumstances,” Jones told the Star-Telegram on Thursday. “We know that to make that kind of commitment to your backup quarterback, you’ve got to anticipate it being a very significant time. Well, one of the significant times is if you’ve positioned yourself to be able to compete for a championship.
“He’s the quality backup quarterback that allows you to do that, and that’s exactly what we thought we were getting when we agreed to make that commitment with him. This is it. There’s only one or two times that can justify that, and this is one of those.”
The organization has yet to rule out Tony Romo, but everyone concedes it would take a Hail Mary for Romo to play with a herniated disk. The Cowboys’ hopes rest on the right arm of Orton, who is 35-34 in his career as a starter but has thrown only 15 passes the past two seasons.
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“I have a ton of confidence in him, and the fact that he has played in NFL games, started a lot of his career,” quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson said Thursday. “I think the other thing that’s a factor is that he took the bulk of the work this spring when Tony was out [after having a cyst removed from his back]. … Hopefully, he can draw on that experience.”
The point spread climbed from 2 1/2 to 6 1/2 after news of Romo’s injury broke Monday, making the Cowboys big underdogs at home. Nonetheless, the Cowboys like their chances.
“Obviously, with Tony not being out there, that’s a blow for your football team,” Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said Thursday. “He’s one of the better quarterbacks in this league, but you’ve got to step up and believe you can do it. This is where we are. What you work for and you prepare for this entire season since April comes down to this game.”
Jones said Orton is “seasoned in the system” and has “credentials better than” many of the backup quarterbacks the Cowboys have played this season. The Cowboys have faced five quarterbacks who weren’t starters to begin the season, including Philadelphia’s Nick Foles.
“I have a lot of faith in our system, our schemes, what it is philosophically we try to do,” Jones said. “[Orton] will be about decision-making and execution. He’s got the experience to make the good decision, and the system is a good one, and he’s well versed in the system. He’s certainly got the arm strength and again the experience to execute it.”
The Cowboys also are preparing to play without middle linebacker Sean Lee, who, like Romo, hasn’t been ruled out but isn’t expected to play. Lee has missed the past two games with a neck injury.
“We’re getting down toward the midnight hour,” Jones concedes. “… I wouldn’t want to risk the longer term with either player, but I wouldn’t want to risk having a real healthy Sean [for a possible playoff run] against a maybe Sean [for Sunday].”
Without Romo and Lee, the Cowboys need their best players to be at their best. Jones named DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick, Brandon Carr, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray and Witten as the “key players” the Cowboys need to step up.
The owner also called on the home crowd, expected to be one of the biggest in AT&T Stadium history, to be a difference-maker.
Jones likes his team’s chances this week … and beyond, if it can get there. The Cowboys would host an NFC wild-card playoff game with a victory over the Eagles.
“I do feel like with Sean Lee on the come, and with the quarterbacking that we have, all of it, that if we can get in the playoffs that we can compete,” Jones said.