Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
A week after stinking up Jerry Jones' new joint with a three-interception performance against the New York Giants, Romo actually treasured the football. It's too early to call him a changed man, but his willingness to remain patient in a tight game was one of the main reasons the Cowboys escaped with a 21-7 win over the Carolina Panthers.
"I get frustrated and disappointed when I don't play up to what I think my standard is," Romo said following the game. "That's why I come back with a purpose and improve to get better. That was my sole focus this week was to understand why I did certain things, come out here and not make those mistakes again and improve as a quarterback and to help this team win."
Make no mistake. This wasn't the type of victory that puts the Cowboys in the Super Bowl conversation, but it's one they absolutely had to have. Romo finished 22-of-32 for 255 yards and no interceptions. Staying back in two-deep coverage for most of the game, the Panthers were determined to keep everything in front of them -- and Romo was happy to oblige.
Playing against a winless Panthers team that was understaffed on defense, the Cowboys' offense didn't score in the first half. It was the first time Dallas had been held scoreless in the first half since Nov. 19, 2006 against the Indianapolis Colts. The Cowboys put themselves in huge holes with holding and tripping penalties in the second quarter. The old Romo (from Week 2) may have become impatient and tried to force the ball downfield. Instead, he took his medicine and waited until the second half.
"I thought Romo really was determined to be smart, relative to turnovers and was taking what was given to him," Jerry Jones said.
It was odd to hear Jerry Jones and Wade Phillips talk about how Romo "managed" the game so well, but that's exactly what happened. When Felix Jones went down with a knee injury in the second half, Romo fed the ball to Tashard Choice. The Cowboys have now posted back-to-back 200-yard rushing games for the first time since 1979, which is pretty stunning when you consider that Emmitt Smith hung around here for a few years.
Late in the third quarter, Romo finally made a couple of big plays. On third-and-11, he found Patrick Crayton in the middle of the field for a 12-yard completion. Then on third-and-8, he pulled out one of his vintage school-yard plays. After being flushed out of the pocket to the right, he spotted Choice all alone on the left side of the field and lobbed the ball back to him for a 9-yard gain. It was the type of improvised play that makes Romo a unique talent. But it was a rare sight Monday.
This version of Romo will take some getting used to. We've become so accustomed to the drama of watching him dig himself out of trouble that his performance Monday seemed positively boring. The Cowboys will still need him to win games in the future, but it's good to know he's capable of simply staying out of his own way. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has brought more balance to this offense through three games, although the back-to-back fade routes from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter made little sense.
Romo rescued this franchise from a long line of nondescript quarterbacks in 2006, but Bill Parcells warned us that there would be bumps in the road. Those bumps have appeared the last three Decembers and they were certainly evident in the Week 2 loss to the Giants. The Panthers' defensive game plan was built around the notion that Romo would eventually become impatient and make a poor decision. It never happened.
"They're kind of waiting on you to make mistakes," Romo said. "We didn't make any mistakes and that's why we were able to win the game tonight. They thrive off that stuff and I was happy to see our team play that kind of ball, and I thought that was important."
Other thoughts on Dallas' victory:
Roy Williams said he dropped Romo's first fade pass in the end zone early in the fourth quarter. It looked like Panthers cornerback Richard Marshall broke up the pass, but Williams said, "I put that on me. It was a drop on my behalf. It was close." Marshall and Williams had a running dialogue throughout the game, and it didn't always look friendly: "He's terrible," Williams said of Marshall. "Print that."
Phillips didn't have much information on Felix Jones' left knee strain. Jones returned to the game for one play but then limped off again. He was by far the most explosive player on the field Monday night and the Cowboys need him to stay healthy. I thought Jones did an outstanding job of seeing the holes and bouncing outside. Once he's past the line of scrimmage, he's nearly impossible to catch. It's a luxury for the Cowboys to have three backs, all of whom could start for a lot of NFL teams.
Here's what Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith had to say about the Terence Newman interception that iced the game for the Cowboys: "Jake [Delhomme] was expecting me to cross his face. I should have crossed his face and I didn't cross his face. I put Jake in a bad situation. I second-guessed my route and I shouldn't have. The bottom line is that I screwed Jake. I am a firm believer in calling a spade a spade."The Cowboys did a nice job of rolling their coverage to Smith's side. They almost always had a safety over the top to prevent him from making a big play. Smith had been faking the slant and trying to work outside quite a bit during the game. On the interception, he simply stayed outside. It's alarming to think of how many interceptions Delhomme is going to end up with at the end of this season.
Rookie outside linebacker Victor Butler is going to help this pass rush. Late in the game, Butler had two sacks and a forced fumble. He could give this defense a much-needed boost. DeMarcus Ware is relentless, but he needs to rest every now and then. Butler is a high-motor guy who has a knack for getting to the quarterback.