OXNARD, Calif. (AP) Tony Romo will play his first game for the Dallas Cowboys since undergoing back surgery for a herniated disk last December.
Romo will start for the Cowboys in Saturday's exhibition game against the Baltimore Ravens. Romo missed Dallas' exhibition opener against San Diego as the Cowboys are easing him back into things after his second back surgery in the past two years.
Romo said he gave no thought to skipping the preseason to make sure he stayed healthy, saying the only way to get better at football is to play football. It will be his first chance to play in a game under new play caller Scott Linehan.
''I think you have to play in the preseason,'' Romo said. ''Obviously, some people can't, but I do know from my perspective, this game is not something where you can show up and think that you can do it. I think it's been proven far too many times that if you take too long of a break or don't get reps under you that you will be exposed in certain areas.''
Coach Jason Garrett said he has no expectations about what he will see from Romo and is just looking forward to seeing him back in a game.
''Just go out and play,'' Garrett said. ''We ask our players to get prepared for any situations. We try to prepare them as coaches and it's their job to go play.''
Romo sustained the injury against Washington last Dec. 22 but stayed in and threw a game-winning touchdown pass to keep Dallas' playoff hopes alive. He had surgery two days before the Cowboys lost to Philadelphia with Kyle Orton at quarterback in a season-ending loss that kept Dallas out of the playoffs.
The surgery in December was the second procedure on Romo's back in an eight-month span. He had a cyst removed before the start of offseason practices last year and didn't do any significant work until training camp.
Romo was held out of competitive situations throughout the offseason this year and the Cowboys limited his throws early in training camp. But Romo has looked more like himself in recent days and is ready to play against the Ravens.
''I felt like this was a big week for Tony,'' tight end Jason Witten said. ''Early in camp they were resting him some and we did not have him every day. I thought he did a really good job going the right places with the ball, good zip on the ball, leading us on the 2-minute drive with the same intensity he always has. I felt like this was a really big week for our team and felt he's done a really great job setting the tempo for us.''
Romo said he has no worries about how he will react to the first hit on his injured back, saying he got past that after a collision with running back DeMarco Murray a few days ago.
''The second hit is just nothing,'' he said. ''It will be easy.''
Backup Brandon Weeden played well in Romo's place in the exhibition loss to San Diego, completing 13 of 17 passes for 107 yards and one touchdown.
But the Cowboys know their hopes for success this season ride on Romo. The 34-year-old is coming off another strong season, having thrown for 3,828 yards and 31 touchdowns in 15 games in 2013. He also nearly cut his interceptions in half, throwing 10 after having 19 passes picked off in 2012.
Even that wasn't enough to get the Cowboys back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Instead, they finished 8-8 for the third straight season.
''Every game that you play you're not guaranteed anything,'' Romo said. ''It's special just to play football. It's special to get to play for the team I play for. It's special to get out there and put the helmet on. For me I don't take that for granted. I know that it's a great feeling when I do get to go out there.''
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