Shallow WR pool almost sinks Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The fractured rib hurt so much that Tony Romo needed a pair of pain-killing injections to play Monday night.

Yet Miles Austin's strained hamstring was much more painful for the Dallas Cowboys' franchise quarterback.

Thanks to a ferocious defense, Dan Bailey's foot and some grit and good fortune, the Cowboys managed to pull even at the top of the NFC East standings with an 18-16 win over the Washington Redskins. But, man, did Romo miss his favorite wide receiver.

There won't be many more frustrating wins in Romo's career. For a quarterback who has been criticized for not being a take-charge guy, he sure spent a lot of the night at Cowboys Stadium ranting at teammates.

"Tony had some words for me, not all of them warming, but it's all good," said receiver Kevin Ogletree, the subject of several rants. "It's tough love."

Added Romo, who completed 22 of 36 passes for 255 yards but had his 20-game touchdown streak snapped:

"There were a lot of mistakes that didn't sit well with me. We'll correct that tomorrow. That's part of the game, especially when you have young guys."

It was such an exasperating experience for Romo that fellow captain Jason Witten, the NFL's most reliable tight end, assisted with the ranting at the team's receivers. Witten coyly described it as "encouragement" when television cameras surrounded his locker, but he admitted that quite a few expletives flew.

Romo has two targets that he totally trusts: Austin and Witten. With Austin expected to be sidelined through the Week 5 bye, the Cowboys have a lot of work to do this week.

"There's no question we had some confusion and certainly we saw the inexperience of that group of receivers that we had in there," owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "I thought that was going to be our undoing."

Can we please put an end to the discussion about whether Dez Bryant has already surpassed Austin in the team's receiver pecking order? Let's at least wait until Bryant has 1,000 career receiving yards before putting him above Austin, who has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and will get there again this year if his health allows it.

Bryant's a tremendous talent, but he's got a long way to go to become dependable. He's capable of making spectacular plays, such as the 30-yard gain on a third-and-long playground route to keep Dallas' game-winning drive alive, but a four-catch, 63-yard performance provided further evidence that Bryant is still in the beginning stages of his development.

The Cowboys' most reliable receiver against the Redskins was Laurent Robinson (three catches, 49 yards), a fifth-year veteran signed the week of the season opener, released the next week and re-signed the following week.

But Bryant, who played with a bruised quadriceps, wasn't the problem. The Cowboys' lack of depth at receiver was exposed.

Ogletree, who replaced Austin in the starting lineup, was simply awful for most of the game. His fumble was a physical mistake, which the Cowboys can stomach.

They can't deal with the long list of mental mistakes from a third-year receiver who looked at times like he had never cracked Jason Garrett's playbook.

Ogletree admits he should have had a touchdown when Romo had a pretty throw on a deep fade route, but the receiver played passively instead of attacking the ball and allowed the defensive back to break up the pass. His alignment error forced the Cowboys to burn a timeout, drawing Witten's wrath. He ran a bad route on Romo's only interception. And he ran a worse route on third-and-goal with the Cowboys trailing by four points early in the fourth quarter.

Romo was still seated on the turf when he started screaming at Ogletree after that incomplete pass near the front right corner of the end zone, angrily raising his arms in the air, the universal "what the hell" gesture.

"I just kind of stopped in the middle of a route, which is the worst thing you can do," Ogletree said. "He just told me, 'What were you thinking?' I kind of mumbled something to him and he was like, 'You're stupid.' "


At least Ogletree partially redeemed himself with a sweet, one-handed snag on a ball thrown behind him for a 20-yard gain on a slant route to get the game-winning drive going. Romo provided some positive reinforcement for that catch, combined with a swift kick in the butt.

"He says he expects me to make those ones," Ogletree said, "and he kind of expects me to run the wrong routes sometimes, too."

Don't expect Austin to come riding to the rescue next week.

It's on Ogletree and the other young receivers to get it right. If that doesn't happen, Romo's sore rib won't rank as his biggest problem.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.