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Cowboys into working more, not hoping things will be better

IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys walked out of Lincoln Financial Field on Sept. 20, the normal elation of an NFC East victory was replaced by the uneasy feeling of knowing they would be without Tony Romo.

Romo suffered a broken left collarbone in the third quarter and will be out until Nov. 22 at the earliest.

The undefeated start has been followed by three straight losses without Romo and the uneasy feeling of not knowing if they will be in playoff contention when Romo returns.

“We don’t really believe in hope,” tight end Jason Witten said. “We believe in the work that you put in to give yourself a chance to go win a game and execute. It’s a bottom-line business. We understand that. And we’ve got to play better and find ways to win games. Collectively we’re going to do that and we’re going to work hard to get better and be able to execute better in those situations.”

In the Sept. 27 loss the Atlanta Falcons, the Cowboys let a 28-17 halftime lead slip away. In the Oct. 4 loss to the New Orleans Saints, the defense allowed an 80-yard touchdown on the second play of overtime. On Sunday, the offense had six three-and-outs in the first half and failed to score a touchdown for the first time since Week 3 of the 2011 season.

“We need a win,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “We need fundamentally the notches on our belt. Playing good is hollow right now because we expect -- although it’s not a given -- to be playing good when we get our players good. But if we’re too far behind the eight ball, we’ve got a problem. There’s not much consolation saying, ‘Boy, we’ve got some great things to come.’ That’s not the consolation this room needs. We’ve got to have us some wins.”

The good news for the Cowboys is they won’t lose this weekend. Of course, they won’t win either. By the time they play again Oct. 25 against the New York Giants, they could have Dez Bryant back from a broken foot. But they also might be playing with their third starting quarterback if Brandon Weeden is replaced by Matt Cassel.

But the offensive problems go far beyond what Weeden has or has not done. They have not run the ball as well as expected. The receivers have not won enough outside and when they have, Weeden has not found them.

The Patriots took away Jason Witten and Cole Beasley, limiting the Cowboys’ attack.

On defense, rookie defensive end Randy Gregory is expected to return from a high-ankle sprain to bolster a pass rush that sacked Tom Brady five times in the first half. While the defense was better against the Patriots, it still gave up 30 points and failed to have a takeaway.

Yet the vibe in the locker room was still upbeat, despite the three straight losses.

“Plenty of confidence,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “Plenty of confidence. We’re not that type of group to give in or give up. We’re going to have confidence.”

The Cowboys' situation should be helped by the rest of the NFC East. The Cowboys are a half-game behind the Giants, who have won three straight, in the division. The Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins have the same 2-3 record as the Cowboys. Only five teams in the NFC have a winning record.

“I think it’s really early to start talking about standings,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We are five weeks into the season. So there’s a lot of football to be played. We understand that.

“But the biggest thing is to try to improve, try to improve ourselves from a personnel standpoint, how we do things. And also from a coaching standpoint, and to try to give ourselves and our players the best chance to succeed. And just to get ready for that next challenge, which is the Giants 13 days from now.”