It was the kind of moment -- Cowboys down 10-6, no timeouts -- Romo has delivered in many times in his career, including the season opener against the New York Giants, but all he could do was watch, like he has done the past seven weeks.
When Matt Cassel's deep pass on a double move to Dez Bryant was intercepted in the end zone with 14 seconds left to seal the Cowboys’ 10-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the attention almost immediately turned to Romo’s return from a broken left collarbone.
He is eligible to come off the injured reserve/designated to return list and play next week against the Miami Dolphins.
“Tony’s had a good couple of weeks of practice with us,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We anticipate him being able to practice this week.”
Garrett seems to be the only one unwilling to say Romo will play against the Dolphins. Maybe it’s just part of Garrett’s day-to-day process in which he can’t think that far ahead, but there isn’t a shred of doubt elsewhere that Romo will play.
Maybe there should be a question about Romo playing -- even if healthy.
The Cowboys have lost seven straight games, the franchise’s longest losing streak since 1989. They are tied with the Detroit Lions for the worst record in the NFC. Only the Cleveland Browns have a worse record in the entire league, at 2-8.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said there is no decision to make: Romo plays.
“It’s in our long-term, best interest to go win a ballgame,” Jones said.
While Romo’s absence has shown just how much he means to every little bit of the success the Cowboys have had in recent years, it also exposed how reliant they have been on Romo.
“Even though we get Romo back, that’s not something we should consider,” Jones said. “We had an opportunity to win [Sunday] and had opportunities to win without Romo and didn’t take advantage of them.
“And that’s a flaw.”
The Cowboys have lost nine straight games with their backup quarterbacks, dating to a Week 17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. Brandon Weeden lost one game last year when Romo was out with two transverse-process fractures and lost three starts this year. Matt Cassel lost all four of his starts and the Cowboys failed to score a touchdown in two of them.
The last Cowboys backup to win a game: Stephen McGee in Week 17, 2010, against the Eagles.
On Sunday, the Cowboys offense delivered season lows in yards (216) and first downs (12). A running game that seemed to find itself in the previous three games was shut down (42 yards, 21 carries) and the passing game was held to fewer than 200 yards for the third time in five games.
For the third time this season, the Cowboys didn’t score a touchdown. The last time that happened in team history was 2001, when they failed to score a touchdown in four games.
“Pretty stunning,” wide receiver Cole Beasley said. “It’s more than stunning to me. I can’t answer that one for you. Um, I mean it shouldn’t be that way. I don’t know, man. We got to find a way. We got to figure it out.”
Romo has figured it out before. Maybe he can figure it out again. It's the Cowboys' only hope.
“Sure, it's exciting to have him back,” Dez Bryant said. “But at the same time, we still got to get to where we brought us. We're going to continue to keep fighting, keep pushing. Really have no choice. Nobody is quitting in here. We’re going to keep going.”
But will Romo’s return matter?
Mathematically the Cowboys are alive, but they are running out of time and games. The best news for the Cowboys on Sunday was the losses by the Eagles and Giants. It kept the Cowboys in the same position at the end of the day that they were in at the start of the day: two games back in the loss column.
Romo has made something out of nothing so many times since 2006, but coming back from this just seems to be too much.