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A bombshell bit of news in the NFC East, ahead of a Week 17 showdown to decide the division's champion: Dallas QB Tony Romo will miss Sunday's game with Philadelphia and any subsequent playoff games with a back injury, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett would not confirm that Romo is out this week, merely starting in his Monday press conference that Romo is dealing with a back or hip injury.
"Anytime you have an injury you have to think about what the contingency plans are," Garrett said. "Right now, we have a quarterback who's getting treatment."
The winner of that matchup between Romo's Cowboys and the Eagles will take home the NFC East championship. NBC opted to flex that game into its Sunday night slot for Week 17 -- the third consecutive season that Dallas has been bumped into that spot; Dallas lost the division on the season's final day in both 2011 and '12.
The Cowboys forced this year's winner-take-all affair with a comeback win over Washington on Sunday. Romo threw a 10-yard pass to DeMarco Murray with 1:08 left to give his team the victory, despite being visibly hobbled for much of the fourth quarter.
“We think it will be OK,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Romo's injury on Sunday evening. “But it was a tightening. It wasn’t a contusion. It was a little tightening there. But we will work on that all week… He’s kind of getting some special treatment for it. It didn’t keep him from playing and won’t keep him from playing."
So much for that. Into Romo's starting spot will step Kyle Orton, who last started in 2011. He's thrown just 15 passes as Romo's backup over the past two years. Orton does have 69 career NFL starts under his belt, just none with Dallas.
Another issue for the Cowboys, with their season on the line: There's no other QB on the roster behind Orton. Dallas also does not currently have a quarterback on its practice squad, so it will have to sign a free agent to serve as the No. 2 behind Orton for this Sunday's contest.
Few players in the NFL fall under such an intense gaze as Romo has throughout his career. The Week 17 losses the past two seasons certainly haven't helped him shed the label of being an underachiever. Romo was 20-of-37 with two touchdowns and three interceptions in a 28-18 loss at Washington to close 2012; he threw for 289 yards with two TDs and a pick in a 31-14 loss to the Giants on the final evening of the 2011 regular season.
Romo, 33, last missed a game in 2010. Orton was in Denver at that time, in year two of a wholly unsuccessful run as the Broncos' starting quarterback. He was claimed off waivers by the Chiefs the following season, then slid to Dallas before 2012.
His career has been dotted with inconsistencies, but he has at times shown the ability to be a competent NFL quarterback. Orton has a winning record as a starter (35-34), with 11 games of more than 300 yards passing.
Not only might the Cowboys' season now fall on his shoulders, but so too could the fate of Garrett and his coaching staff. Though Dallas owner Jerry Jones has backed Garrett repeatedly, the belief has long been that this is a playoffs-or-bust situation for the Cowboys' coach. An ESPN report from this weekend indicated that Jones will clean house if Garrett cannot deliver a division title.
Regardless of who's at quarterback, the Cowboys figure to have their hands full on Sunday. The Eagles currently lead the division with a 9-6 mark and they're coming off a 54-11 destruction of the Bears.