Nothing has changed for Dallas

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Tony Romo apologists already have their talking points on laminated cards. They're only discussing his 506 yards passing, five touchdown passes and the Dallas Cowboys' raggedy defense. Meanwhile, the Romo haters can't get over how the most polarizing player in franchise history could play brilliantly for 57 minutes, have the ball in his hands in a tie game and throw a brutal interception.


Remember, he did essentially the same thing last season in the regular-season finale against the Washington Redskins with a playoff berth on the line.

It's what Romo does. It's who he is. Romo is a supremely talented player with a propensity to make mistakes at the worst possible times.

Deny it, if you choose, but we saw him do it Sunday against the Denver Broncos in one of the best football games you'll ever see.

Denver 51, Dallas 48.

You also saw why the Cowboys have remained mired in the muck of mediocrity -- Dallas is 130-131 since 1997 -- for parts of three decades.

Nothing has changed. Not really.

This team continues to find creative ways to lose; good teams figure out how to win.

Jason Garrett can talk all he wants about the positives he saw against Denver. He can talk about Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams each surpassing 100 yards receiving, and Morris Claiborne recovering a fumble and intercepting a pass and Sean Lee's 16 tackles.

He can even talk about his team grabbing a 14-0 first-quarter lead and battling from a 35-20 third-quarter deficit to take a 48-41 lead in the fourth quarter.

It's all poppycock.

Why? The Cowboys still lost.

Romo forced a pass to rookie tight end Gavin Escobar that linebacker Danny Trevathan intercepted at the Dallas 24, which set up Matt Prater's game-winning, 28-yard field goal as time expired.

Now, the Cowboys are 2-3, and after next week's game against Washington, they play five of the next seven on the road. Do the math and figure out the eight additional games the Cowboys are going to win to reach 10 victories and secure a playoff spot.

If you think it'll take only nine wins to capture the NFC East, the Cowboys still have to win seven of their last 11. Go find the evidence that this up-and-down team can string together a bunch of wins.

Besides, too many people affiliated with this team are delusional -- start with the owner who stood in the middle of the locker room and declared a moral victory.

"I'm just encouraged that we played at the level we played in a lot of areas that we're gonna win enough games to get where we want to be," Jerry Jones said. "This was a moral victory today for us."

It was?

"Yes. Yes."

And you wonder why this team remains the epitome of mediocre. If the Cowboys were 3-2, we could at least listen to Jerry hint at the possibility of making the playoffs and competing for the Super Bowl without laughing.

But this team is 2-3 and 24-29 since the start of the 2010 season. Garrett is slowly building a team, but he could've used this type of signature win on his résumé.

"I'm proud of the way we played, but at the same time," Witten said, "we're too far along to say, 'Hey, we were right there with the best team in the league.' There are no moral victories. You've got to find a way to win games."


The reality is Romo had a career day. He might never come close to playing as well as he did against the Broncos.

Jerry's optimism is founded in his belief that the Cowboys found an offensive identity against Denver. Romo finally attacked the defense instead of taking the conservative throw every time he dropped back to pass.

Romo had nine completions of 20 yards or more in the first four games of the 2013 season; he had nine against Denver in becoming the first 500-yard passer in franchise history.

"I see the fundamentals for what our plan was in the offseason that was going to give us ball protection," Jerry said, "although it's ironic that we lost the game with an interception at the end.

"How do you get all of that and get and keep a creative Romo? If he'll play like that, we're gonna have one heck of a year, and we'll be knocking at the door. We'll beat most teams we play if he'll play like that."

This performance proves nothing other than the Cowboys are talented enough to play with the best teams any week. It shows that, on a given day, Romo can play like an elite quarterback.

So what.

We've seen the Cowboys and Romo do it in the past. Many times.

We've just never seen them do it consistently in years. We're talking about one of three franchises -- Detroit and Washington are the others -- that hasn't played in the NFC Championship Game since 1997.

Heck, the Cowboys have won only 10 games in a season three times since 1997. This is the team they've been for nearly 20 years. They're as liable to turn in a terrific performance Sunday against Washington as they are a poor one.