Cowboys can win NFC East without Tony Romo

PHILADELPHIA -- It's OK if you thought the Dallas Cowboys' season pretty much ended with 9 minutes, 44 seconds left in the third quarter and Tony Romo flat on his back.

You weren't alone.

Romo is out indefinitely with a fractured left collarbone, and backup quarterback Brandon Weeden will take the reins of the Cowboys' offense. Few people -- other than his friends, family, coaches and teammates -- believe he can take Dallas to the playoffs.

Guess what? He can. Seriously.

This is not about delusions of grandeur or living in a world of gumdrops and lollipops. Just so you know, former coach Bill Parcells took the 2003 Cowboys to the playoffs with Quincy Carter throwing passes and Troy Hambrick running the ball.

"I'm confident of that," owner Jerry Jones said after the Cowboys' 20-10 win over Philadelphia on Sunday, when asked if his team was equipped to win games without Romo.

"Equipped to win as easy and as well as having Romo at quarterback? Of course not. No, no. We're a different team, but we're a team that can win football games in the NFL."

The Cowboys can win the NFC East -- among the NFL's worst divisions based on the season's first two weeks -- as long as they lean on the running game and the defense and ask Weeden to manage games and avoid losing them.

Weeden must understand that incompletions, occasional sacks and punts are acceptable, but turnovers are not. The Cowboys need their offensive line, which might be the best in the league, to control the line of scrimmage.

Doing so plays to the defense, which should continue to improve and get stronger as difference-making defensive ends Randy Gregory (ankle) and Greg Hardy (suspension) and linebacker Rolando McClain (suspension) return over the next few weeks.

None of this represents a new concept. The Cowboys essentially used this style last season -- they ran the ball 50.1 percent of the time -- and it worked out just fine as they finished 12-4, captured the NFC East title and won just their second playoff game since 1996.

It will be a more difficult task for much of this season because the offense won't have Romo, Dez Bryant or DeMarco Murray like it did last season.

No one knows when or if Romo will return until he gets further tests done on his collarbone to determine whether he needs surgery, and Bryant (foot) is out for another month at least.

Murray, as we know, signed a five-year contract with Philadelphia in the offseason. But he'd probably forfeit some of his $42 million contract, if he could, to return to Dallas and run behind its offensive line after gaining just 2 yards on 13 carries Sunday.

The Cowboys' running game managed only 113 yards on 33 carries, an average of 3.4 per carry. Romo's 12-yard scramble turned out to be the Cowboys' longest gain of the game, which is not nearly good enough.

Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden combined for 82 yards on 28 carries, with a long of 9. Against the Giants in Week 1, they combined for 81 yards on 22 carries.

They must produce more to make the game easier for Weeden.

Weeden completed all seven of his passes for 73 yards and a touchdown against Philadelphia. He ran three times for 7 yards and picked up one first down.

He protected the ball, and he played smart. His 42-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams with 4:13 left gave Dallas a 20-3 lead.

"Our standard is high for anybody who goes in and plays, and he understands that," Garrett said of Weeden. "He'll prepare well, and he'll play well."

A full offseason immersed in the Cowboys' offense and a competition to secure the backup job in training camp has Weeden more prepared this season to help the Cowboys win than he was last season.

And the way the defense is playing, Weeden's job is to manage the game and limit mistakes. The defense allowed one touchdown, set up by an interception returned to the 1-yard line against the New York Giants, and Philadelphia scored its only touchdown with 1:21 left in the game.

"My entire strategy to have a chance to compete in the playoffs this year is don't get eliminated because we have help coming at the end," Jones said. "One of them is Romo. One is Hardy. One is Rolando McClain. We have some good people coming back, but we have to hang around this thing."

Weeden can help the Cowboys do that.