Any hope the Dallas Cowboys had of getting Tony Romo on the field for Sunday’s winner-take-all game for the NFC East title was lost Friday morning when the quarterback had back surgery. The Cowboys placed him on injured reserve.
Romo suffered a herniated disk against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, and while sources indicated all week the surgery was necessary and he was likely out for the Eagles game, the Cowboys waited to see if daily treatment as well as an epidural steroid injection to reduce inflammation would alleviate the discomfort and allow him to get on the field.
But Romo’s back was not getting better after the team exhausted all options on treatments and decided late Thursday to have Romo undergo surgery, coach Jason Garrett said.
Backup Kyle Orton will start at quarterback against the Eagles, with newly signed Jon Kitna serving as his backup.
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“We spent the week exhausting all options in regards to Tony’s situation — treatment, rehab, all the different things, consulted a lot of different people on this,” Garrett said. “We just felt like as we discussed it, as yesterday wore on, this was the best decision for him and for the organization moving forward, and we felt like it was better to have this done sooner rather than later.”
Garrett said he talked to Romo, and the 11th-year veteran quarterback was “devastated” by the decision.
“He puts a lot into this,” Garrett said.
There is no question the Cowboys are devastated as well, considering their hopes for this season and the decision last spring to give Romo a $108 million contract extension, with $55 million guaranteed.
Owner Jerry Jones said the decision for Romo to have surgery now was in the best interest of Romo and the team. Jones expects Romo on the field for organized team activities in May in preparation for the start of the 2014 season.
“It was apparent [Thursday] that he was not responding. We were advised by many people that the quicker you relieve the discomfort, the quicker the long-term recovery,” Jones said Friday on his weekly radio show on KRLD/105.3 FM. “My expectation is that one of the pluses for having had it done as early as this morning is that it would really contribute to him being able to get right there when it comes time for the team to be in OTAs and do the preparation, the beginning of the preparation for next year.
“So we would anticipate him being right on time there and expect it, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Romo will be 34 in April and will be recovering from his second back surgery in eight months, though both Jones and Garrett contended that this back issue is unrelated to the one last spring.
“From everything I know from talking to several people personally, there’s no relation between these and wouldn’t look to be a chronic-type, of the chronic nature,” Jones said.
Jones also insists that he feels so good about Romo’s recovery and future with the team that he will not consider taking a quarterback high in the 2014 NFL Draft.
“You’d like to every spring pick up a quarterback. I think the real issue and maybe your question would be would you seriously consider using a significant draft pick for a quarterback. That’s early,” Jones said. “That’s way too early to do that with the way things are today with my expectation of Tony’s career, which I think will be for several years to come. It’s too early to be drafting a highly ranked or costly quarterback.”
The Cowboys feel good about going forward into Sunday’s game against the Eagles with Orton.
He has taken all the first-team snaps in practice this week. The team was already preparing as if Romo was not going to play.
Orton “is certainly a great guy. He’s been doing this for a long time and has handled it well the past couple of days,” Garrett said.
It will be hard to replace Romo, who was in the midst of the one of the most efficient seasons of his career.
Romo completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 3,828 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games. His passer rating of 96.7 ranks eighth in the league.
The Cowboys signed Orton, 31, to a three-year, $10.5 million deal with a $5 million signing bonus before the 2012 season as an insurance policy for moments such as this.
“It doesn’t change my mindset,” Orton said after the announcement on Romo. “We have had a good week of practice. I’m ready. I’m very excited to go out and play.”
Orton is 35-34 in his career as a starter but has played in only three games — all in mop-up duty — since Dallas signed him. He has thrown a total of 15 passes the past two years.
The players were disappointed after getting the official confirmation on Romo, but they plan to rally around Orton.
The Cowboys need a victory to seal the NFC East title and a possible No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the playoffs. A loss puts them out of the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year. It would also end their season with an 8-8 record for the third straight season.
“I feel bad for Tony,” receiver Dez Bryant said. “I hope he has a speedy recovery, which I know he is. And we’re going to try to get this W for him. We’re going to rally behind Kyle. Everybody else has to step their game up just a little bit more and put it all out on the line.”
The news was even more personal for tight end Jason Witten, who is Romo’s best friend on the team.
“He would give everything to be there,” Witten told reporters Friday. “But this is pro football and these things come up, and we need him to get healthy for next season.”