GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The moment was there for Tony Romo to be the hero.
It was fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 32, late in the fourth quarter, and the Dallas Cowboys quarterback delivered a perfect throw down the sideline to Dez Bryant for a 31-yard gain. It took gumption to just attempt that pass in that situation.
But Romo, often criticized for taking gunslinger-type chances, went for it. And briefly it looked like he had the story written: Returning to his home state to beat the Packers and advance to the NFC Championship Game next week in Seattle, where he bobbled a snap on a field goal attempt in the final minutes of a 2006 playoff loss.
It was storybook stuff.
Then Gene Steratore overturned Bryant's catch. Romo would not touch the football again. The Cowboys lost 26-21 and Romo, after nine seasons as Dallas' starting quarterback, was left to wonder if he will ever get a chance better than Sunday's.
"Just to lose in general is disappointing," Romo said. "I have played long enough to understand that you don't have these kinds of teams on your side to play in these games consistently. When you have that opportunity you want to take advantage. It just doesn't feel very good right now because you feel like you let one slip away and that you had an opportunity with a good ballclub that had a chance to win this thing.
"That is going to eat at you for a while."
Romo completed 15 of 19 passes for 191 yards. He threw touchdown passes to Tyler Clutts (1 yard) and Terrance Williams (38 yards) in the first half. He was not intercepted. He was sacked four times.
And he had his moment. Until he didn't.
The Packers had a safety over the top of Bryant for most of the game, but on this fourth-and-2 call, they didn't. The Cowboys had three wide receivers -- Bryant, Williams and Cole Beasley -- as well as tight end Jason Witten lined up wide.
Before the snap, when Bryant saw man coverage, he knew the ball was coming his way.
"It's our relationship," Bryant said. "It's things we talk about. I know when we call a certain play regardless of where it is, he expects me to come down with the ball. That's exactly what I did."
The Packers came after Romo, so he had to take a chance. He couldn't risk taking a sack while waiting for somebody else to get open.
"They gave me an opportunity there," Romo said, "and I thought I was going to have a couple people come open, but that's a chance to take the lead with one of your best players, so you give him an opportunity. We've done that throughout the year. It's hurt a lot of teams."
And it hurt the Packers. Until it didn't.
As Romo walked to the team bus after the game, he had a slight limp from a first-half hit to his knee. He could not straighten his left ring finger because of what he thought was ligament damage. He attempted to tape it up, but he felt the tape was too slippery so he played without any added protection.
His season was over, but maybe his story has started to change. He came back from major back surgery to throw 34 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions in 2014. He led the NFL in passer rating and completion percentage. He led the Cowboys to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. He played through torn rib cartilage early in the season and two transverse process fractures in his back in the middle of the season.
"You have heard me say this before, but I just believe it so much in my heart that Tony Romo's greatest traits are his physical and mental toughness," coach Jason Garrett said. "All the great players in this league have those traits. Tony certainly exhibits them week in and week out. He's certainly done it all year long and he demonstrated it today.
"When things don't go our way, he kept battling back. When people hit him, he kept battling back. He made critical throws throughout this ballgame and gave us a great chance to win it at the end."
It was his moment. Until it wasn't.