Oh no! It's Romo

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

If you're a Cowboys fan, now's the appropriate time to panic. ESPN's Michael Smith reported Monday morning that quarterback Tony Romo broke the pinkie finger on his throwing hand and will be out the next four weeks. A member of the team's medical staff confirmed the report to me and said the injury won't require surgery.

And you thought Sunday's overtime loss to the Cardinals was bad news? Even though he hasn't been himself the past three games, Romo is the heart and soul of the Cowboys. When he took over for Drew Bledsoe on Oct. 29, 2006, the organization didn't appear to be headed anywhere. He's led the team to a 23-9 record since that day, which makes him the third winningest quarterback in the league during that time period.

The injury occurred on the first play of overtime when Romo was sacked by Chike Okeafor. On third-and-17, he attempted to hit T.O. on a sideline pattern, but the ball sailed out of bounds. Romo looked down at his finger as he left the field.

The loss of Romo happens at a time when the team is going through its most difficult stretch of the Wade Phillips era. The offensive line couldn't protect Romo on Sunday, and he spent most of the day on his back. He managed to throw for 321 yards and three touchdowns, but a lot of that came during the frantic finish.

The Cowboys have a good shot to beat the 1-4 Rams at St. Louis with backup quarterback Brad Johnson, but things get dicey after that. Tampa Bay comes to town the following week and then the Cowboys travel to the Meadowlands for a showdown with the Giants. There's a good chance the Cowboys are 5-4 when Romo returns for the Redskins rematch Nov. 16.

I haven't talked to Romo yet, but I know he's devastated by having to miss three games. He has managed to stay injury-free since becoming the starter six games into the 2006 season. The Cowboys flirted with the idea of trading for Chris Simms during training camp, but they stuck with Johnson because of his veteran leadership. The one thing he might do a better job of than Romo is protecting the football, but he's not a guy that will make a ton of plays downfield.

The Cowboys will lean on Marion Barber more than ever. But what complicates the issue is a left hamstring injury to rookie Felix Jones. He told me after the game that he'd be fine, but he had a noticeable limp.

This team was already showing signs of unraveling. Now, it has to play three games without its best player. Even the most optimistic Cowboys fan would have a hard time envisioning this team winning two of its next three games.

It's time to put the Super Bowl talk away. The Cowboys are now in a desperate battle to even qualify for the playoffs. It's appropriately overcast in Dallas this afternoon, matching the outlook for this team.