Had you fooled, didn’t they?
You thought Tony Romo was hurt again. You thought your magical, dimpled quarterback’s season was over. You thought the Dallas Cowboys were done.
But silly you.
‘Tis but a scratch, owner Jerry Jones emerged from the Cowboys locker room to say.
"Just a scare," Jones said of Romo’s latest brush with the football fates.
"I’m not going back to Dallas. I’m checking into a hospital. Heart issues."
In other words, cue the laugh track. Tony Romo is still alive. He even wanted to go back into the game, he said, and I dunno, score a few touchdowns and bench press a few linebackers or something.
"That was a perfect timed situation," Romo said, brushing aside all insinuations of his growing vulnerability.
To hear Romo describe the play on which he was shaken up in Thursday night’s exhibition against the Seattle Seahawks, it wasn’t his twice-operated-upon back that caused Cowboys America to hold its collective breath. Rather, it was a test.
Yeah, that’s it. A test, a pop quiz from the Football Back Injury gods. And Romo says he passed, without even studying.
"In a weird way, I feel good about the fact that was probably as tough of a hit I’ve taken on the back in the last five years," Romo said. "From that regard, I feel very lucky that it can hold up and I can keep going."
Oh, please. I thought Romo got hit in the back, not on his head.
That was not an NFC East-type quarterback collision Thursday night. That was a fender bender. Beginning in two weeks, trust me, Romo is going to be bent, folded and stapled, again and again, a lot harder.
And that’s what should have concerned all Cowboys fans Thursday, and not just Romo, his owner and his head coach, Jason Garrett.
After being kept bubble-wrapped and hermetically sealed for most of training camp, on a night billed as the season’s final dress rehearsal, Romo was injured on the third play of the game.
The third play. The first time he tried to scramble. On a hit by Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril that looked nothing like the intent-to-maim stuff that the regular season defenses dish out.
"I think initially he was in a little bit of shock and didn't feel real good," Garrett said. "Once a little time went by, I think he was feeling better and better and better. We don't think there's anything serious.
"He was campaigning to get back into the game. We just thought it was in the best interests of him and our team that we keep him out, and we gave Dak [Prescott] a chance to go from there."
Move along, in other words. There was nothing to see here.
The Cowboys lost 27-17, less than impressively, but the light-hearted mood was made possible because Prescott came off the bench and moved the first down chains again.
He completed 17 of 23 passes for 116 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown throw to Jason Witten that the 6-foot-5 tight end plucked from the waiting hands of linebacker K.J. Wright.
Had his receivers been more sure-handed, Prescott could have had a third consecutive dazzling statistical night. Instead, his quarterback rating was 99.2.
Any rookies do better this week?
To a growing number of us, Prescott has proven that he has the poise, confidence and NFL skillset to handle whatever spot duty that the fates may summon him for. And it hasn’t been just the three preseason games that have teased us into believing this. Prescott, at times at Mississippi State, was the best quarterback in the best conference in the county.
It’s hard to imagine that a quarterback who will be cut from an NFL roster in the next eight days could perform for the Cowboys any better than Dak Prescott.
A fill-in quarterback from the NFL cut list would mean a fill-in season, and we all saw last year what that looks like.
Jones repeated Thursday that he has no plans to acquire another quarterback.
Yet, all joking by Jones and sighing with relief aside, there was reason for pause Thursday night. If Romo felt good enough to ask to go back into the game, why didn’t he return to the sideline in the second half? Why wasn’t Romo already campaigning to get a few more final snaps next week in the exhibition closer against the Texans? He’s only played 16.
Romo himself said after the game that there are no plans for X-rays or an MRI when the team gets back to Frisco.
But, good grief, why aren’t there? It’s Tony Romo, for Pete’s sake.
The whole thing seemed surreal. It was Romo’s third snap of the night. He winced and reached for his back as if something had been injured again. And afterwards, they all seemed to be smiling and going with the Monty Python "’tis but a flesh wound" story.
A better reaction would have been a confession that the Romo play was a wake-up slap in the face. He only lasted three plays on a night when he was supposed to quarterback into the third quarter.
Bigger hits await. Is Romo going to be able to last for 16 games this season? For 12? For even eight?
Is Owner Jones really having, as he joked, "heart issues" about his franchise quarterback?