Injuries were the biggest fear the Dallas Cowboys had coming into a season they hoped would result in a Super Bowl berth for the first time in 20 years.
One week after losing Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant for eight weeks with a fractured bone in his foot in the season opener against the New York Giants, the Cowboys have lost Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo for least eight weeks with a fractured left clavicle.
Romo was injured in the third quarter of Sunday’s 20-10 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
“It never feels good when you’re hurt, especially the way I feel about our football team and the way the guys played tonight,” Romo said. “I’ll be ready to go when I come back.
“The NFL is about adversity in general, the way you handle it, approach it day to day. I think the job for our football team is to find ways to win. We have a group of guys in that room that I think can do that.”
The extent of Romo’s injury and whether it will require surgery will be reassessed after he undergoes more tests at the team’s Valley Ranch headquarters today.
The Cowboys are 2-0 on the season, while extending their road winning streak to a team-record-tying 10 games, dating to the 2013 season.
But there was little joy in the Cowboys’ locker room, as they face an uncertain future with the 35-year-old Romo sidelined for the bulk of the season.
“We’re both sick,” owner Jerry Jones said. “Broke his heart. Broke my heart.
“It’s not that we haven’t literally had a similar situation more than one time before and certainly no one has pushed up his expectations any higher than Tony about what he can do for us.”
Romo suffered the same injury on Oct. 25, 2010, against the New York Giants when he missed the final 10 games of the season. The Cowboys finished 6-10, resulting in the firing of coach Wade Phillips and the hiring of Jason Garrett after they began the season 1-7.
Garrett is secure in the first year of five-year contract extension, signed last January after the Cowboys finished 12-4, won the NFL East and won a playoff game for only the second time since 2006.
The Cowboys’ hopes of building off last season’s success and reaching the Super Bowl were based on Romo’s career-best and near-MVP performance in 2014 and the prospect he would be even better in 2015 after a healthy off-season for the first time in three years.
A healthy off-season did not translate into an injury-free season.
Romo was hurt on a sack by former Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks with 9:54 left in the third quarter and the Cowboys leading 13-0.
Romo fumbled the ball on the play, but Hicks drove Romo to the ground on his left shoulder.
It was Romo who diagnosed the injury as he walked off the field and headed to the locker room. A Fox television sideline reporter said he could be seen mouthing the words that it was broken.
The injury was confirmed by the Cowboys after X-rays.
“I felt it. It had a little bit of a pop to it,” Romo said.
Brandon Weeden, the only other quarterback on the roster, replaced Romo and helped the Cowboys finish off the victory with a 42-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams to make the score 20-3 late in the fourth quarter.
“I think Brandon is going to come in and play good football,” Romo said.
Romo’s injury overshadowed a dominant performance by the defense, which completely shut down the Eagles’ fast-paced attack.
The Cowboys forced three turnovers, including two interceptions off quarterback Sam Bradford, who had a forgettable performance in completing 23 of 37 passes for 224 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
The biggest play of the game came on the drive after the Romo turnover and injury when the Eagles finally mounted a decent drive.
But on second-and-goal from the 3, linebacker Sean Lee intercepted a Bradford pass intended for tight end Zach Ertz.
“The story of the day was defense,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Defense did a fantastic job. The biggest thing that we talked about is you have to keep fighting. You have to be relentless out there. Regardless of what has happened to this point, you play this play and keep coming.
“For Sean to make that play and not allow them to cash in on that drive I thought was a significant play in the game. And then we come back and extend the score.”
The Eagles got a late touchdown, but they never got started on offense because of the way Dallas handled former Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray and the Eagles’ ground game.
Murray signed with the Eagles as a free agent after rushing for an NFL-high and franchise record 1,845 yards in 2014. The Cowboys refused to meet his asking price and he came into the game hoping for some revenge.
Murray had 2 yards on 13 carries as the Eagles rushed for just 7 yards as a team.
“It starts with stopping the run,” Garrett said. “You get them on their heels a little bit when they can’t run the football. They are a damn good offense. They have a lot of different weapons and a challenging scheme. I thought we played fundamentally sound. That is where it starts. I thought that was the key to the whole thing and everything fed from there.”
Romo completed 18 of 27 passes for 195 yards before getting hurt. Weeden completed 7 of 7 passes for 73 yards.
Kicker Dan Bailey made two field goals and Kyle Wilber returned a fumble 26 yards for a touchdown.
The Cowboys got the victory while also overcoming a franchise-record 18 penalties.
Cleaning up the penalties will be a huge talking point for Garrett his week.
However, the biggest question is how the Cowboys will be able to move forward without Romo, starting Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
It was a Romo injury and subsequent missed games that derailed the Cowboys the past two times they followed up division titles by missing the playoffs the following season. He missed three games in 2008 with a fractured finger after the Cowboys went 13-3 in 2008. The Cowboys finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs on the final game of the season.
And there was also the aforementioned 2010 season.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones acknowledges that Romo’s injury casts a pall over Sunday’s victory. But he believes the Cowboys are better equipped to survive while he is away because of the confidence in Weeden and because the Cowboys have a better team around him.
“Sure, sure. To be honest with you sure,” Stephen Jones said about the Romo injury taking away some of the excitement of the victory. “Not having Tony is a big deal. But I do like our team. We have a team that everybody has a lot of confidence in. The team has a lot of confidence in itself. Just gather troops and suit up. We got the Falcons next.”
It also helps that the Cowboys are 2-0 in the seemingly average NFC East. The Eagles and Giants are 0-2 while the Washington Redskins are 1-1.