IRVING, Texas — In his first outing since fueling the biggest collapse in Dallas Cowboys history, Tony Romo was guaranteed not to lose.
OK, so it was just a bye-week practice on Tuesday pitting the offense and defense known as “Cowboys vs. Cowboys.”
Still, it was the club’s first step toward getting past their latest frustrating loss and getting ready for a weekend away from football.
The point of this session was the offense and defense working on things without regards to a game plan. They’ll be back on the field Wednesday, then have four straight days off to clear their minds and heal their bodies for the next 12 weeks.
“I think it’s important for everyone to realize there’s a lot of football to be played,” linebacker Keith Brooking said. “For us right now, having a bye week, it’s important to get our rest, get physically ready to roll.”
Dallas has been among the most unpredictable teams this season.
With one or two plays going differently, the Cowboys could be 0-4 — or 4-0. They’re 2-2, so luck, fate or whatever else determines games seems to have balanced out.
The agonizing part for Dallas is how historic those losses have been.
The Cowboys blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead in the opener, the widest margin they’ve ever coughed up in the final period.
They one-upped themselves this past Sunday, letting a 24-point, third-quarter lead turn into a four-point loss.
Never in the 773 previous regular-season games, and this includes seasons when they went 0-11-1 and 1-15, has Dallas gagged that badly.
“You have to compete for 60 minutes of hard-core football,” linebacker Victor Butler said. “We’ve seen what happens if you don’t.”
The ugly bottom line to those games erases all the good things that led up to it. Yet Dallas did do a lot of things right to build those leads.
“We played our best football this year in the first part of the games that we lost,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Tuesday on his radio show. “We’re going to need to be a better team, obviously, to get where we want to go. But we’ve got the potential.”
Dallas is fourth in the NFL in total defense and sixth in total offense. That indicates more than potential.
But the Cowboys are third in the NFC East, trailing the Redskins and Giants, because they haven’t been able to handle success.
Romo started the season strong in building a two-touchdown lead over the Jets on an emotional Sunday night in New York, then ruined it with a late fumble and an interception.
Against the Lions on Sunday, Romo was having one of the best performances of his career until throwing two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, and another interception that set up Detroit’s winning touchdown.
His flubs have been the common denominator in the two meltdowns. But, don’t forget, in the two games in between those bookend losses, Romo pulled off late-game comebacks for victories, both while the pain from a cracked rib was at its excruciating worst.
Coach Jason Garrett calls the plays on offense and certainly could have helped avoid throwing away the Detroit game simply by throwing less. Dallas actually threw more than it ran after going ahead 27-3.
“We needed to use clock with that kind of lead,” Jones said. “You can make the case that if you run the ball a few times and punt it, run the ball a few times and punt it, the stats show that you can’t lose it.”
Jones said he and Garrett have had several conversations since the game. He’s come away from them as convinced as ever that Garrett and Romo are the right guys to lead his club.
“I would say the guys that we’re criticizing the most today, starting with Tony, give us our best chance to have something very special happen this year,” Jones said.
“I believe that and know that to be the case. … I know our guys are disappointed over this loss. But they don’t wear this loss around. We’ll be ready to play.”
Brooking agreed, calling this “one of the best teams I’ve ever been on.”
“There are zero distractions within our locker room,” he said. “Jason Garrett and our coaching staff have done a great job of getting guys to buy into the system, our approach, to what they want from us. The effort’s there, the mindset is there. Everything is there for this team to take it to the next level. Now all we have to do is be consistent. When it’s crunch time, we have to make the plays.”