<
>

No doubts now; Cowboys' season all about Tony Romo

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Slowly, one errant pass at a time, Brandon Weeden drained the life from the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.

The Cowboys' defense, which contributed a touchdown, played well enough against the Arizona Cardinals to win. DeMarco Murray's streak of eight consecutive 100-yard games ended, but the Cowboys gained enough yards on the ground to maintain offensive balance.

Weeden, replacing injured starter Tony Romo, was awful much of the day as the Cowboys lost consecutive games for the first time this season and fell into second place in the NFC East behind Philadelphia.

Arizona 28, Dallas 17.

Weeden completed 18 of 33 passes for 183 yards with two interceptions and a touchdown. All you really need to know is through 3½ quarters, he was 0-for-every pass directed to Terrance Williams and Dez Bryant.

All doubt has now been removed. The Cowboys' fate this season relies totally on Romo's back, which should make any member of Cowboys Nation uncomfortable.

If Romo is right and plays the majority of the games left in the season, then the Cowboys will make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. If not, their wretched streak of missing the playoffs will continue.

So there's no need to whine about play selection, or knee injuries to linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford that could further compromise the defense.

The rest of this season is all about Romo.

He has two fractures in his back. Others who've had similar injuries have played after missing one game, and the Cowboys hope Romo can do the same. Jerry Jones said Romo is making the trip to London, an indication the Cowboys expect him to play.

The Cowboys need him because a loss to the 1-8 Jacksonville Jaguars would qualify as a disaster.

This is actually one of the times when Jason Garrett's unemotional, live-in-the-moment approach is a positive because the Cowboys are in the midst of their first real adversity of the season.

They seem to have remained a cohesive group despite experiencing a tumultuous week.

First came the news concerning Romo's back. Then came the disparaging video-taped comments Joseph Randle made about Dez Bryant and Josh Brent. This while the backup running back was being held in a suburban Dallas police station after being arrested on suspicion of stealing underwear and cologne at a department store.

Garrett met with Bryant, Brent and Randle to discuss the matter. Then Garrett addressed the team and Randle apologized to his teammates.

Randle didn't play on offense Sunday until the fourth quarter, which is unusual.

This is the kind of issue that would've caused this team to unravel a couple of years ago because they were so mentally frail. After the game, several players said Randle has been welcomed back into their fraternity.

That said, there's nothing wrong with this team that the return of Romo won't fix.

The Cardinals didn't respect Weeden's ability to make big plays in the passing game, something Romo has done his entire career. The Cardinals played eight or nine players near the line of scrimmage, daring the Cowboys to complete a deep pass.

Weeden completed one pass of more than 20 yards in the first three quarters and that was a first-quarter screen pass to Lance Dunbar.

"I was inconsistent," Weeden said. "In order for this offense to go, I needed to play better at certain times."

Still, the Cowboys had an opportunity to win it in the fourth quarter.

Trailing 14-10, a defensive stop and a 16-yard punt return by Dwayne Harris gave the Cowboys the ball at the Arizona 43 with 9:41 left.

On fourth-and-1 from the Arizona 34, Garrett passed on the field-goal attempt.

It made sense, even though the Cowboys were going against the NFL's best run defense. After all, the Cowboys have a terrific offensive line and the league's best running back.

Well, Arizona stopped Murray for no gain.

Nine plays and 65 yards later, the Cardinals led 21-10 on Andre Ellington's 1-yard touchdown pass. A Weeden interception on the next series set up Arizona's final touchdown, a 1-yard run by Marion Grice that gave the Cardinals a 28-10 lead with 4:23 left.

Despite a two-game losing streak, the Cowboys remain a team capable of competing against the league's best teams.

The reality is San Diego lost Sunday by 37. Arizona has lost by 21. Cincinnati has lost two games by at least 20, as has Pittsburgh. San Francisco was beaten by 25 and New England has lost by 27.

See, no dominant team exists. Every team is flawed.

As long as Romo returns, your Cowboys will be OK. He makes everyone better; Weeden has the opposite effect.