Bryant’s injury, Murray’s exit make QB Cowboys’ clear leader

- Jarrett Bell USA TODAY Sports

For a split second, it looked like another dose of disaster to fuel the haters.

The snap was low, in the turf. But with the game — and a miraculous comeback — on the line in the waning seconds Sunday night, Tony Romo didn’t flinch.

Instead, the most scrutinize­d quarterbac­k in America calmly scooped up the football, regained his rhythm, set his feet and fired the game-winning touchdown pass over the middle to his most trusted target, tight end Jason Witten. Game over. It was a clear snapshot of how the Dallas Cowboys might survive in the coming weeks without their most dangerous weapon. Yes, Romo will have to get it done.

Dez Bryant’s tweet later in the night said it all: “I’ll be back soon but how about 9????????”

That would be Romo, No. 9, who suddenly has added layers of adversity and responsibi­lity on his plate while Bryant rehabs after surgery for a broken bone in his foot.

What a sudden identity shift for the Cowboys. But that’s the NFL — a fire here, a flood there. Adapt or else.

When the Cowboys visit the Philadelph­ia Eagles this weekend for an early showdown to deter- mine NFC East supremacy, the running back who took so much pressure off Romo by winning the rushing crown last season, DeMarco Murray, will be lining up for the hated Eagles. And the receiver who torched the since-overhauled Eagles secondary for three touchdowns in the December game at Lincoln Financial Field that essentiall­y determined the 2014 division crown will be at home with his foot in a cast.

So now it’s on Romo to keep his team moving.

No doubt, he’s well-equipped on multiple levels. Since he became a starter in 2006, no quarterbac­k in the NFL has directed more game-winning touchdown drives. The march Sunday night, aided by New York Giants blunders (the Cowboys were out of timeouts) that left Romo extra time to work his magic, marked his 28th such victory drive.

He is also equipped to handle the upcoming grind mentally. Romo has had last-minute mishaps over the years that his detractors cite to suggest he can’t win the big one. But in reality, he gets a bad rap. More often than not, as demonstrat­ed against the Giants, Romo is clutch.

It’s tough to imagine he can be under the microscope any more than he has been while playing for arguably the most high-profile team in the NFL. But it’s possible. Over the next few weeks, Dallas needs Romo to excel with the noname targets flanking Witten. That’s what the great ones can do for a team, and Romo has been there before.

Interestin­gly, Romo made his strongest bid to earn MVP honors last season. If the award had not gone to Aaron Rodgers, Romo probably would have been the pick after his most efficient season, when he led the NFL in completion percentage (69.9%) and passer rating (113.2). His stellar effort came in a season in which he had the fewest passing attempts (435) in a full season since he became Dallas’ starter.

That’s what Murray’s presence behind the league’s best offensive line did. Romo didn’t have to throw as much as coach Jason Garrett finally fielded the type of balanced offense that he’d given lip service to for years. But times have changed again. The Cowboys are trying to find the running groove, with Joseph Randle in the lead role for now.

And they will need to evolve in other ways.

The big plays that jump-started the game-winning drive against the Giants, with Romo dumping passes to running back Lance Dunbar, might have been a sign of things to come.

The same with the pass protection from that vaunted line, giving the quarterbac­k valuable time.

Romo didn’t win MVP honors last season. But it’s a new year, with circumstan­ces affording him an opportunit­y to prove his case all over again.

 ?? MATTHEW EMMONS, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Tony Romo, 2014’s top-rated passer, led the Cowboys to a season-opening comeback win Sunday.
MATTHEW EMMONS, USA TODAY SPORTS Tony Romo, 2014’s top-rated passer, led the Cowboys to a season-opening comeback win Sunday.
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