LANDOVER, Md. —Tony Romo had to learn how to throw with four fingers instead of five, and how to celebrate with his left hand instead of his right.
He was successful on both counts Sunday night, returning just in time to help rescue the Dallas Cowboys’ season. His 25-yard pass to rookie Martellus Bennett with 10 1/2 minutes to play was the go-ahead touchdown in a 14-10 victory over the Washington Redskins, a must-win-come-true for a team that had been reeling without its offensive leader.
“Are we back to the old Cowboys?” receiver Terrell Owens said. “Who knows? But this is definitely a step in the right direction.”
Wearing a splint under the heavy bandage on his right hand to protect the broken pinkie that cost him three games, Romo overcame a pair of first-half interceptions to complete 19 of 27 passes for 198 yards. To compensate for the injury, he has spent weeks mastering a new throwing technique—which failed him on his one major mistake, a throw behind Owens that was intercepted deep in Redskins territory in the first half.
“You really wouldn’t be reading the tea leaves right if you didn’t understand that it took a lot of work on his part,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, “to where he could put the pressure with the four (fingers) rather than the pressure with using the little finger.”
So when second-round draft pick Bennett showed remarkable concentration to snag the big touchdown catch over safety Chris Horton while on the run at the goal line, Romo bounced up and down like a kid—and had to remember to do his high-fives and backslaps with his left hand.
“I felt like the most awkward individual, when I’m like ‘Yeah!”’ said Romo, raising his right hand and then lowering it quickly. When he did, the hand hit a reporter’s tape recorder. Fortunately, no harm was done.
“See?” Romo said with a laugh. “There it is.”
The victory gave the Cowboys a season split against their NFC East rival and improved their record to 6-4, tied with the Redskins and a half-game ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles. The threesome can virtually give up on catching the division-leading New York Giants (9-1), putting them into what promises to be a tight battle for wild-card berths over the final six weeks of the season.
Now it’s the Redskins’ turn to do some soul-searching. They’ve been held to one touchdown over their last two games and have lost back-to-back contests for the first time this season.
“This is the time in the season where those teams that actually are going upward start making that climb, if you will,” Washington coach Jim Zorn said. “And we’re not making—you know, we haven’t made the climb.”
Dallas had gone 2-4 after a 3-0 start and performed miserably on offense during Romo’s absence. Fortuitously, last week’s bye gave Romo, cornerback Terence Newman and left guard Kyle Kosier a chance to heal.
If anything, Newman’s return was more impressive than Romo’s. Back after missing five games with a sports hernia, he had a second-half interception deep in Cowboys territory and shut down Santana Moss, holding the Redskins’ best receiver to 29 yards on five catches. Newman batted away a pass to Moss on fourth-and-4 at the Dallas 37 with 6:40 remaining, ending Washington’s final drive.
“He was challenged, and I knew he was the type of guy who was going to meet a challenge,” Dallas coach Wade Phillips said. “Terence, you could tell in practice he was ready to go.”
After Newman’s interception, the Cowboys ran out the clock with 11 straight plays involving Marion Barber. He finished with 114 yards on 24 carries and a 2-yard touchdown run that tied it at 7 late in the first half.
Clinton Portis, who wasn’t expected to play due to a sprained knee, carried 15 times for 68 yards and went over 1,000 yards for the season for the Redskins. Jason Campbell went 22-for-34 for 162 yards with an interception and a touchdown — a 2-yard pass to fullback Mike Sellers on Washington’s opening drive.
Romo was picked off twice trying to hit Owens in Redskins territory in the first half. The first one was Romo’s fault—the wayward throw went straight to cornerback DeAngelo Hall, making his Redskins debut after getting cut two weeks ago by the Oakland Raiders. The second one was jarred from T.O. by cornerback Carlos Rogers; Rocky McIntosh caught the deflection for his first career interception.
But Romo wasn’t deterred.
“We had to have this one,” Romo said. “I told the guys the time is now. It’s a show-me game, we had to go out there and show ourselves and show each other that we can play good football.”