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Cowboys will go as far as Tony Romo's back will take them

ARLINGTON, Texas -- His gait slow and halting, Tony Romo walked toward his silver Mercedes coupe in the bowels of AT&T Stadium on Monday night. Dez Bryant called his name.

Romo turned around as Bryant trotted over to give his quarterback a quick hug and best wishes. The QB sat down in the passenger seat, and his father, wearing a blue Romo jersey, drove off.

Sure, the Washington Redskins handed the Dallas Cowboys their first loss in 51 days, a 20-17 decision in overtime Monday night. But the only thing folks who cheer, support or work for the Cowboys want to know is the condition of Romo’s back.

With 7:59 left in the third quarter, Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson blasted Romo and sent him careening to the turf. As Romo lay prone on the turf, the Cowboys’ season teetered between hope and despair.

It still does.

If Romo is out for an extended period, the feel-good emotions that have accompanied the Cowboys’ surprising 6-2 start will be lost in the reality that teams often can’t survive a catastrophic injury to their starting quarterback.

But if Romo is ready for the next game, the Cowboys will continue to believe their four-year playoff drought will end.

Romo, who has undergone two back surgeries in the past year, immediately grabbed his lower back at the end of Robinson’s sack. He spent several minutes mostly motionless before turning on to his left side. Finally, he stood up and gingerly headed to the sideline, aided by two members of the Dallas training staff.

Whether Romo’s back is going to be good enough for him to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, or the rest of the season, is a question no one can answer with 100 percent certainty right now.

What we do know is that Romo bruised his back and missed two series while getting X-rays and taking a pain injection.

“I was very concerned, because he laid there as long as he did,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “After we got him in here, we felt better about it. If he were needed, he told us he wanted to play.”

Romo will have an MRI on Tuesday to ensure there is no additional damage. Even so, the 34-year-old quarterback sounded confident he will play against the Cardinals.

Of course, last December when Romo hurt his back also against Washington, he returned to the game and said he expected to play the final game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Five days later, he had season-ending surgery.

So it’s probably best for the Cowboys Nation to wait a couple of days before exhaling.

“I haven’t seen the tape yet, but it felt like some sort of knee or elbow hit me perfectly in the spot that obviously sends a negative feeling,” Romo said. “Even if I hadn’t had back surgery, I would still probably feel that one pretty good. It was a direct hit right there.”

Romo played the final series of the fourth quarter and the Cowboys’ only series in overtime but failed to generate any points. He threw consecutive incompletions to end the game. He finished 17-of-28 passing for 209 yards and a touchdown.

Washington sacked Romo five times and harassed him much of the night, as the Cowboys struggled, as they often do, to handle the blitz scheme of Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

And Romo didn’t look right on the 10 plays after he returned. He fumbled once inside the Dallas 5-yard line, but DeMarco Murray recovered it. And on the next play, Terrance Williams made a remarkable catch on a pass that seemed destined to be intercepted.

In overtime, Romo completed one pass for a loss of a yard.

Ordinarily, there would have been more disappointment at the end of a six-game winning streak, especially to a division opponent. But several players said their emotions were buoyed by Romo’s expectations to return for their next game.

Romo has had a passer rating of more than 90 during each of the past seven games, and he gives this team a chance to win each week.

Brandon Weeden did well against Washington in place of Romo, completing 4 of 6 passes for 69 yards a touchdown. But Weeden is not a guy we expect to play at a Pro Bowl level over the course of a season, like Romo.

“You see one of your brothers who works so hard on the ground, and there’s nothing you can do to help,” Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox said. “And it becomes an emotional thing.”

The Cowboys trailed 10-7 when Romo left the game, and it was tied at 17-17 when he returned. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said he never considered staying with Weeden, who led Dallas to consecutive scoring drives.

“If Tony is ready to come back in, you give him a chance to do it,” Garrett said, “because he’s our quarterback.”

Everything will be OK if that is the case the rest of this season. If not, disaster looms.