MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – On Saturday night in the offense's meeting room at the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo stood in front of his teammates and spoke for a few minutes.
“Outstanding. Felt it. I got chills, I tell you that,” Dez Bryant said. “Because he talks to us, but that was kind of different. I think he already got all our respect. I think he just made all of us play a little bit different and be more focused with everything because he was basically telling us, you know, he needs us and we have to be there for him. I think we did that. We tried our best and we can only get better from here.”
“I told the guys that it was really inspirational watching them,” Romo said. “Even though we didn’t win over the last seven weeks -- and I know that’s ultimately what we are all defined by: how you perform and play on Sundays -- is really a direct reflection of who you are. I told them that the wins and losses are what people talk about, but the way that they played was inspiring. I know that [the media] couldn’t write every time that you look for someone laying down or not playing hard. I doubt that you can ever find that. Our football team never let up. The tough part is when that doesn’t produce results, because then it gets tougher each time.
“The fact that they have committed to this and [were] just getting better, and then let the results happen later, has just been a great thing to see.”
The Cowboys weren’t much different Sunday than they were during most of their seven-game losing streak. It wasn’t perfect. Romo wasn’t perfect. He was intercepted twice, once in each half. A celebration penalty set up the Dolphins’ first touchdown. The defense allowed some big plays, like a 29-yard touchdown to tie the score in the third quarter.
But it was how the Cowboys reacted after the adversity that was different from the seven straight losses and is mostly attributed to Romo’s return.
After Miami’s tying touchdown, the Cowboys put together an 80-yard drive, highlighted by a 35-yard run by Darren McFadden to the Dolphins 9. A Zack Martin holding penalty moved the Cowboys back 10 yards and was followed by a 3-yard scramble to close the third quarter.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Romo found Bryant for a 16-yard touchdown pass on a crossing route.
The defense responded with its only three-and-out of the second half, and Lucky Whitehead made an 18-yard punt return that was extended an extra 15 yards because of an unnecessary roughness penalty.
Seven plays later, Dan Bailey kicked a 30-yard field goal and the Cowboys were in control.
None of that happened during the seven-game losing streak. None of that happened without Romo.
“I got more comfortable as the game went on,” Romo said. “I think what happened was, the combination of the situational thinking throughout the game and that got better and better as the game went on. Then my footwork got better and I got tighter with everything. I trusted what I was seeing. Sometimes I threw a little bit away or low and that was just because I wasn’t 100 percent certain, and that comes from a layoff. I think as the game went on I started to find that rhythm and we started moving the ball pretty well.”
In the second half Romo completed 9 of 12 passes for 95 yards and the touchdown to Bryant. The completions were spread out among six pass-catchers. Two of the Cowboys’ three third-down conversions came on their final drive, when burned 5:25 off the clock to end any chance of a comeback.
“He brings great energy,” Jason Witten said of Romo. “He’s the leader of our team. He gets us into great looks. He’s a competitor. He makes plays. I thought you saw him do that today at his best. Big pressure throws to Terrance [Williams] and Dez that changed the game for us.
"But ultimately I thought our team played better. Offensively we were able to control the line of scrimmage, run the football and look like our old selves in a lot of ways. And the defense and special teams helped us out.”