Gil LeBreton

After this, Cowboys’ fate anything but ‘inconclusive’

Inconclusive.

That’s what coach Jason Garrett judiciously called the early X-rays Thursday on quarterback Tony Romo’s reinjured shoulder.

But let’s be frank. There is little that is inconclusive about what lies ahead for the Dallas Cowboys.

Romo is hurt. The only medical discussion Friday might be whether he needs surgery this time or not.

The Cowboys are 3-8 and last place in the NFC East is all theirs. Only a virtual implosion by the division leading New York Giants can unearth the Cowboys’ playoff hopes.

And even then, the Cowboys likely would have to run the table with winless Matt Cassel filling in at Romo’s spot.

Inconclusive?

About as inconclusive as the sling that draped Romo’s left shoulder after the 33-14 Thanksgiving Day loss to the Carolina Panthers.

“The X-rays were inconclusive,” Garrett announced. “We don’t know much at this point. He’ll have further tests tomorrow.

“We’re taking it day by day.”

But even day by day, let me suggest, is a daunting climb for a team that likely can’t afford to lose another game this season.

Not to mention that a few minutes before Garrett spoke after the game, Romo had gingerly ascended the interview podium and said, “It feels similar, yes.”

Considering this is probably the third time that Romo has broken the same collarbone, he ought to know.

“You’re always chancing it when you come back,” he said. “The hard part is playing knowing that you’re playing also not to get hurt. Which is silly — you can’t do that. You just have to go play.

“We knew that was part of it. Collarbones happen all the time like that.”

I’m no actuary, but it’s easy to assume that at age 35, Romo bears an even greater risk of reinjuring the clavicle or his well-chronicled back.

And then, too, Romo was injured Thursday on the final play of the third quarter with the Panthers leading 30-6, much of the day’s blood already covering Romo’s own hands.

He threw three first-half interceptions, two of them that were returned for Carolina touchdowns. His timing — and judgment — clearly were off. His throws lacked their customary zip.

Romo’s attempt to explain the errant throws was both candid and painfully to the point.

“My thought process needed to be different on each throw,” he said. “In my past, there are certain things that trigger in your brain that you go through mechanically. Sometimes you need to see them in camp, in a game, in practice.

“But I wasn’t quite there yet. It was going to take a little bit of time. You hope you can win games until you can get that back.

“It was just disappointing that I wasn’t able to do that and played poorly today and really put our team in a hole. And that was the difference in the ballgame, really.”

Considering that the Cowboys’ defense allowed only one touchdown all day to the 11-0 Panthers, Romo’s mea culpa will get no objections here.

But this is what happens when a team feels compelled to start a 35-year-old quarterback, coming off a major injury, in two games separated by only four days.

Inconclusive? That seems like only a matter of semantics now for Romo and the 3-8 Cowboys.

Mathematically, true, they are still alive in the NFC East race. But so are my chances of winning the Wednesday night lottery.

When the Cowboys reconvene next week, the more pertinent questions may be about next year’s overall No. 1 draft choice — they’re certainly in the hunt — and when they should start evaluating young Kellen Moore, the practice squad quarterback.

Garrett, sticking to the “inconclusive” company line, declared, “If Tony is ready to play, he’s going to play. All hands on deck.”

Sure. Go ahead.

Ignore that iceberg.

Gil LeBreton: 817-390-7697, glebreton@star-telegram.com, @gilebreton

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