Tuesday September 27th, 2011

Tony Romo turned in a gutsy performance in the Cowboys' come-from-behind win. (Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE)

The Redskins had a real chance Monday night, after upwards of four years of frustration and failure, to take a major step forward. Oh, did they have a chance.

And then Tony Romo took it away.

It's hard to figure out exactly how the Cowboys pulled out an 18-16 win over the Redskins. Dallas scored zero touchdowns and had trouble even snapping the football -- on multiple occasions, center Phil Costa fired it back in Romo's direction before Romo was ready. Six times Dallas put the ball on the turf; Washington recovered just once.

So, despite all their ridiculous bumbling, the Cowboys found themselves with a chance to steal a second straight win. Just like Week 2, when Romo shook off a cracked rib and punctured lung to carry Dallas past San Francisco, the Cowboys' oft-criticized QB stepped up again.

First, he drove Dallas 76 yards to the Washington 5 to set up Dan Bailey's fifth field goal of the night, which trimmed a tenuous Redskins lead to 16-15 with seven minutes remaining. Then, after the Cowboys defense made a critical stop, Romo led a drive that started at the Dallas 14 and ended with a 40-yard Bailey FG.

Dallas' D made Bailey's final kick stand up, with Anthony Spencer forcing a turnover to lock it up.

Both the Cowboys and Redskins left Monday night 2-1 and tied with the Giants for first in the NFC East. But the gap in how the two teams will feel Tuesday couldn't be any bigger.

Washington had this game won. After an ugly first half ended in a 9-9 tie, the Redskins finally found paydirt in the third quarter, with Grossman hitting Tim Hightower for a 1-yard score.

At that point, the Redskins were battering Romo, driving him to the turf every time he dropped back to throw. Meanwhile, Romo's receivers -- who badly, badly miss Miles Austin -- could manage to run the correct route only about 75 percent of the time, while Costa kept snapping the ball whenever he felt like it.

The Cowboys looked completely lost. And even though the Redskins were playing far from their best game, their effort seemed like it would be more than good enough on this night.

Romo was the only one who could change the course of events. The fact that he did that, again, cannot be be understated.

There may not be a quarterback in the league that takes as much constant criticism as Romo does, every little misstep amplified by the fact that he plays for "America's Team" and America's most visible football owner in the league's most garish stadium.

Up until this point in his career, that spotlight has burned him more often than not.

The Cowboys, however, saw what life without Romo was like last season when their star QB was out injured -- they finished 6-10. They're suddenly living on the opposite end of the spectrum, a place where Romo plays like the elite talent everyone always expected him to be.

It is way, way to early to be deeming any outcome as season-changing. Still, something about how Dallas managed to win -- and how the Redskins found a way to let it slip away -- is enough to make you tag the game as one to remember. Washington was just a few minutes away from throwing down the gauntlet in the NFC East and announcing its presence as a contender. Instead, Tony Romo made sure that everyone knew the Cowboys weren't going anywhere.

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