Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Romo's steady side helps Cowboys surge in NFC East

The Associated Press

IRVING — Tony Romo has gone from swashbuckling to steady. Dare we say ``workman-type''?

Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips came up with that answering a question about his quarterback after Sunday's 38-17 victory against Seattle. Romo had just finished his career-best third straight game without an interception, which happens to coincide with a three-game winning streak that ties Dallas with Philadelphia atop the NFC East and sets up a first-place showdown Sunday night.

Phillips was trying to describe his whole team, but the connection was notable. And the coach continued the theme Monday, even after some time to think about it.

``We all know Tony played well and has been consistent throwing the ball for most of the games this year, but really the last three,'' Phillips said. ``He's thrown it to who he needs to throw to.''

Romo's gunslinging reputation — the bad side of it — grew in the first regular-season game at Cowboys Stadium. With a record crowd and huge television audience watching, he threw three interceptions that led to three New York touchdowns in the Giants' 33-31 win.

His fourth interception was a big one in Denver, wiping out a great scoring chance in a 17-10 loss. But that was also the last one. There have been eight touchdowns among the 106 Romo passes over the past three games.

``You're always looking to never make a mistake, everyone being on the right page, everyone doing the right things,'' said Romo, who was a steady 21 of 26 for 256 yards with three touchdowns against the Seahawks. ``You're always striving for that each week. The reality of it though is that it's not going to happen every week.''

One other major factor in Romo's favor coincides with the past three games: the emergence of receiver Miles Austin. That's all the time it took for people to start calling him the No. 1 receiver on a team with Roy Williams and his $45 million contract.

Perhaps the label came quickly because Austin has 482 receiving yards in his first three starts, the most of any player since 1970.

Austin has taken short passes a long way, which he did twice to help save the Cowboys in a 26-20 overtime victory at then-winless Kansas City. He and Romo have connected on deep routes, too, including one that put Dallas ahead for good in a crucial game against Atlanta two Sundays ago.

``I'm just getting more balls my way, so it's making me more alert and I'm ready for an opportunity any time it rears its pretty head,'' Austin said.

The nagging concern for Dallas is the inability of Romo and Williams to find each other. Drops by Williams and bad throws in his direction by Romo overshadowed his second touchdown of the season against the Seahawks.

Still, productivity elsewhere and general efficiency by the No. 2 offense in the NFL are a relief for a franchise that spent three years answering daily questions about whether Terrell Owens was getting the ball enough.

``The good thing is we're not saying, 'Well, we've got to get the ball to Roy Williams,''' Phillips said. ``You can get caught up in that.''

Romo hasn't completely thrown the flash in the trash can.

One of his best highlights during the three-game winning streak was a spin-dart-and-toss touchdown to Patrick Crayton against Atlanta. The difference, though, was that Romo slowed down when he found open space and made sure Crayton was open before delivering the 5-yard scoring pass.

Even if Romo was more careful, Crayton said, the Cowboys need those plays from their quarterback.

``He's not a game manager,'' Crayton said. ``They don't pay him to be a game manager. They pay him to make plays, and that's what he's doing.''