Tony Romo dusts off Bucs' assault

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Whenever Tony Romo decides to walk away from football, Sunday's game will not be recalled in the mental Rolodexes of even the biggest Dallas Cowboys fans.

He has made far too many throws, delivered too many improbable escapes and even more touchdown passes for a 16-10 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 23, 2012, to become such a long-lasting memory.

For only the second time in his past 35 games in which he started and finished, Romo did not throw a touchdown pass. He completed 25 of 39 passes for 283 yards. He was intercepted once. He had a passer rating of 75.1.

But those figures do not tell the story of how tough Romo played Sunday.

He was hit on most of his 39 pass attempts even if the official stat sheet accounted for only four sacks, including a helmet-to-helmet hit in the fourth quarter that did not draw a penalty but will probably draw a fine for Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

"I'm sure we'll get some ice packs going tonight," Romo said as he stood at the postgame lectern.

That Romo displayed toughness is nothing new. He played through a cracked rib and punctured lung for six weeks in 2011, requiring pain-killing injections and extra protective padding. He has played through plenty of other big hits in his career that have left him with a broken collarbone, a bruised back and a broken pinky finger.

But the collection of hits by Tampa Bay seemed different than in the other starts of Romo's career. The normal target a quarterback wears each week seemed expanded. McCoy and Michael Bennett had two sacks each on Romo, with Bennett almost folding him in half on one.

"He's a special player," Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin said of Romo. "He's a tough guy. It's always a positive feeling when someone who's down and gets hit and gets knocked down and comes back and comes back stronger."

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett could not recall a game in which Romo was hit more, perhaps purposely blocking out the bad memories of their five-plus seasons together.

"I thought he did a good job of fighting through," Garrett said. "The ballgame wasn't clean by any stretch of the imagination and it didn't feel comfortable to him, didn't feel in rhythm throughout the ballgame, but he made some big throws in difficult situations."

Romo did not flinch, his eyes remaining down the field and not on an oncoming pass rush.

"You've got to play each play separate," Romo said. "I know sometimes they talk about quarterbacks getting a lot of rush early in games. My thing is if they can rush you and beat people on every single snap, then more power to them. But you can't play thinking that way. Each time dropping back you have to assume it's a new play, a new thing and everybody's going to do their job. That's the only way to be consistent at the quarterback position."

On the drive after he was hit on both of his throws, including a Bennett sack in which right tackle Doug Free chose not to help tight end Jason Witten for some reason late in the third quarter, Romo dropped back another time believing he would have a clean alley to throw a pass.

Quickly, however, that proved to be fruitless and he slid to his right as Austin sped down the field on cornerback Eric Wright. McCoy closed faster than a hawk on its prey, hammering Romo from the side as he let the ball go.

"My body weight was going in the other direction," Romo said. "I wanted to throw it even further, but my hand or thumb hit the guy in front of me. Miles did a great job doing the rest."

Austin came down with the 49-yard catch -- and injured his ribs in the process -- leading to a Dan Bailey field goal after Romo took another shot from McCoy on the drive.

"It's not good enough," center Ryan Cook said of the protection. "We would like in a perfect world to have no shots, no pressures and him to sit back there in the pocket all day and throw the ball, but that wasn't the reality today.

It hasn't been the reality all season. Coming into Sunday's game, Romo had been sacked only three times in two games, but his mobility and creativity were the only reason the sack total wasn't at least four times greater.

Romo has done this sort of bailing out many times in his career and it has led to some of his signature moments.

The Cowboys can't rely on his moxie or guile or luck to continue to bail them out if they want to succeed as 2012 unfolds.