IRVING, Texas (AP) Tony Romo made plenty of bad decisions and bad throws before he was a 34-year-old quarterback in the first real test for his surgically repaired back.
It's just that his three interceptions in a disastrous return for Dallas raised all sorts of questions that haven't come up before.
Was he ready or rusty? Can he still make all the throws coming off a herniated disk? Will he ever be the same?
Maybe the more important issue is how he bounces back from a 28-17 loss to San Francisco with the Cowboys needing the good Romo more than ever because of big questions about their defense.
''I think that it's easy to be critical because of those turnovers there, the early turnovers,'' owner Jerry Jones said after Romo threw all three picks in the first half Sunday.
''I don't know if the turnovers hurt us any worse than when we had turnovers in the years when he didn't have back problems.''
Romo had issues beyond the interceptions. He was jumpy in the pocket at times, and a relatively easy target on all three sacks for the 49ers. He wasn't in sync with his receivers several times, and missed badly on some throws.
Watching him struggle made it difficult to forget that he didn't get any competitive work in the offseason and took frequent days off during training camp. Most starters get three preseason games, even if for just a handful of snaps in the first one. Romo only played in two exhibition games this year.
Still, coach Jason Garrett isn't a big believer in the rust factor.
''You guys can go back and count up the plays he played last year in the preseason relative to the plays he played this year. I bet it's pretty similar,'' Garrett said Monday. ''Was he as sharp as he's been in his life? No. He made some bad decisions in this game that really hurt us. There were some other throws that weren't perfect. But there were some good throws too.''
Before Sunday, Romo had never thrown more than one interception in an opener. And only once in his eight previous seasons has he followed a three-interception game with more than one pick.
So he generally bounces back, and it's interesting to note that one of his two years with a career-high 19 interceptions ended with the best Dallas record in the past 22 years.
But that 2007 team had one of the top 10 defenses in the NFL. The Cowboys were the league's worst a year ago. And while they shut out San Francisco in the second half, they gave up big plays in the passing game to Colin Kaepernick and couldn't stop a steady touchdown drive that put the 49ers ahead 28-3 just before the half.
Jones has acknowledged that Dallas will have to outscore teams, and said after losing to the 49ers that his team wasn't good enough to overcome the kinds of mistakes that have plagued Romo at times throughout his career.
''It comes down to two or three throws, and at the quarterback position you can be exact on 15 throws and if the 16th one is bad, you probably didn't play that well,'' said Romo, who was 23 of 37 for 281 yards with a late touchdown. ''There were a couple of bad decisions that I made that I have to go back and correct going forward.''
That starts Sunday at the Tennessee Titans, who intercepted Alex Smith three times in a 26-10 win over Kansas City.
''Tony will be fine,'' said tight end Jason Witten, who was limited to two catches for 14 yards. ''He'll bounce back. He's his own worst critic, and he's an elite quarterback.''
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