"He motivated me to go out there tonight when I obviously wasn't 100 percent," said Bryant, who was slowed by a thigh injury but still managed to make the critical third-and-21 catch that kept the Cowboys' final scoring drive alive. "I mean, broken rib, punctured lung, and he's out there. You've got to be willing to put yourself out there for a guy like that."
This was the prevailing thought in the Cowboys' locker room -- that in spite of the tower of circumstances that were stacked against him, Romo was the reason the Cowboys beat the Washington Redskins on Monday night. He was without top receiver Miles Austin, and Bryant wasn't himself. His offensive line played a miserable game, especially center Phil Costa, who was so confused by Redskins defenders barking fake snap counts that he kept snapping the ball before Romo was ready for it. The running game didn't get going until the second half. Oh, and his rib is still broken, and that hurts.
And yet, without much help from any of his offensive friends, and without so much as a single touchdown, Romo managed to deliver a fourth-quarter comeback win for the second week in a row.
"Pure will," tight end Jason Witten said. "And nobody in this locker room is surprised. We knew he had that kind of makeup, and when you have a quarterback with that kind of mentality, it's easy to want to go out there and play for him."
The watchword for the NFC East so far in this young season is "tough." Sunday in Philadelphia, the undermanned, injury-ravaged New York Giants came back on the division-favorite Eagles and won a game they seemingly had no business winning. Giants quarterback Eli Manning wasn't playing with broken ribs, but his passing-game options are as shredded as Romo's right now, and that says nothing of the injury issues the Giants are enduring on defense. But Manning remained cool and calm Sunday, picked his spots and threw four touchdown passes to lift the Giants to 2-1 in spite of all they're going through.
Monday night, Romo did basically the same thing. No, he didn't throw any touchdowns. The scoring hero of this game was rookie kicker Dan Bailey, whose six field goals accounted for every point Dallas scored. But with everything seeming to crumble around him and his center flipping the ball over his head, Romo kept making plays. He kept getting in his teammates' faces and urging them to be better. His very presence on the field did as much. It may well have been Romo's shining moment as a leader.
"He won the game for them," Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield said. "Quarterbacks are measured by wins and losses, and he did enough to win the game. He made enough plays."
The Redskins, by the way, would like to be included in the toughness discussion. They know everybody picked them to finish last, but they came into Monday night's game 2-0, and when it was over they felt they'd let one slip away. They're not into moral victories in Washington. They believe themselves to be a good team, and they took a tough loss just the way you'd expect from a team that expects itself to win. They took it hard.
"We feel like we have everything we need to be a winning team," left tackle Trent Williams said. "We've just got to find a way to bring these tough games home."
Williams was flat-out exhausted from working all night to try and contain Cowboys pass-rushing monster DeMarcus Ware. Williams had Ware frustrated to the point that the Cowboys moved him over to the other side to send him against right tackle Jammal Brown for much of the second half. Ware got past Williams a couple of times in the fourth quarter, when the Redskins were unable to sustain the clock-eating drive that would have salted away their victory, but overall Williams had reason to feel good about his performance. He said he did, but he looked spent.
"It's almost impossible to go out there and dominate him to where he doesn't make any plays," Williams said. "I felt like I recovered well, but there's some stuff he did that he didn't even show on film, a lot of inside moves and stuff. He's a great, great player."
But Williams hung tough, and the Redskins' defense hung tough for most of the night. And the offense ran the ball tough, though without much success against an extremely tough-looking Cowboys defense. These two teams traded punches as if they were fighting at the end of a "Rocky" movie, and in the end the Cowboys were one or two plays tougher.
"I don't feel like we took a step back," Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. "We held them to six field goals and we needed to make one more play than we made defensively."
Coming out of this week of head-to-head matchups in the NFC East, the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins are all 2-1. The favored Eagles are 1-2, mainly because their own quarterback hasn't been able to finish the last two games. While Michael Vick is complaining about not getting calls, Manning and Romo have been finding ways to overcome their challenges and win games anyway. Their teams may not have as much talent on the field right now as the Eagles do, but they're taking a back seat to no one in the toughness department, and the records reflect that.
"It's going to be tough and hard-fought every single week, right to the end, and I think with all four teams," Cofield said. "That's the way it always is in the NFC East. That's the way we like it."