Tony Romo continues his evolution

IRVING, Texas -- Maybe, after all these years, Tony Romo has finally repressed his inner gunslinger.

Perhaps, he finally understands it's the bad plays he doesn't make -- not the brilliant ones he does -- that represent the difference between winning and losing most weeks.

After all, the Dallas Cowboys are 27-10 in Romo's career when he doesn't throw an interception.

Then again, perhaps Bill Callahan's West Coast offense influence on the passing game and Jason Garrett's constant nagging about turnovers has prompted a change in Romo's approach.

Look at the numbers: Through three games last season, Romo had 33 completions of fewer than 10 yards, and 10 of more than 20 yards in 70 attempts. This season, he has seven completions of more than 20 yards and 54 completions of fewer than 20 yards.

DeMarco Murray had nine catches for 57 yards in three games last season and 16 for 116 his season.

So what does it mean?

Romo is being more careful with the ball and his decision-making. He's sacrificing yards for completion percentage, which is OK because the short completions are putting the offense in more manageable third-down situations.

"At the end of the day, forcing it one on two is forcing it," Romo said. "I'd rather take the guy who has five yards of space. I just think it's nothing more than what the defense is giving us."

Garrett has stressed the need to limit turnovers more than ever during training camp and the early part of this season.

Romo tied for the league lead with 19 interceptions last season, and it played a huge role in the Cowboys' 8-8 season whether you blame Romo, the offensive line or receivers for the interceptions.

There's no bigger reason for the Cowboys' failure to reach the playoffs last season than Romo's three interceptions against the Washington Redskins in a win-and-get-in game that ended the season.

Romo has only one interception in 115 attempts this season -- no other NFC starter has fewer -- and Terrance Williams ran the wrong route on that play.

But Romo seems different through the first three games of this season, which isn't long enough to understand whether this is a long-term trend or an aberration. And who knows what type of challenge San Diego's defense -- giving up 27.0 points and 340.7 yards per game -- will provide?

Still, Romo seems more willing to take a sack or throw the ball away instead of forcing the ball into coverage.

Against Kansas City, he threw the ball away on consecutive plays in the first half. Leading 7-0 against St. Louis in the second quarter, Romo eluded pressure from a blitzing linebacker and fired the ball into an empty area on second-and-8.

Four plays later, Dan Bailey kicked a field goal for a 10-0 lead.

"In some ways, I'm having a little bit more time in the pocket which [results in you] not throwing as many balls under duress in a football game," Romo said. "That's an important aspect for a quarterback. You've seen some other teams across the league go through that a little bit with some pretty good quarterbacks who just have that half-a-second less time to make their decisions. It's a tough game as it is."

The pass protection, overall, has been good.

Travis Frederick and guards Ron Leary and Brian Waters, who's expected to start Sunday after splitting time with Mackenzy Bernadeau the past two games, have solidified the middle of the line. These days, Romo can step up into the pocket. He has time to make decisions, which is good because quarterbacks under duress throw interceptions.

"The less times you have to make reactionary throws under duress," said Romo, "the better chance your football team's going to have to win the turnover battle."

We've all seen Romo have long stretches without committing turnovers or making indiscriminate throws. He had thrown only two interceptions in his past 178 passes entering the Washington game.

As Romo continues to mature as a player, he seems at ease taking the short throws and giving his receivers an opportunity to run after the catch, a staple of the West Coast offense.

The Cowboys' defense has played well early in the season with 13 sacks and five turnovers. When a quarterback believes in his defense, it makes it considerably easier to punt or play conservatively and wait for better field position.

All of it has made Romo a better, more efficient quarterback. Now, we just need to know whether it's going to last a few games or the entire season.