SEATTLE -- Tony Romo left the suit and tie inside his locker, tugged on some sweats and shrugged his way through a postgame news conference. Reporters lobbed dozens of questions designed to elicit the kind of answers that everyone around him gave on Sunday.
Like Jerry Jones. The Dallas owner is prone to the grandest of pronouncements, and he called the Cowboys’ 30-23 victory over the Seattle Seahawks the most important win of Jason Garrett’s tenure, which started in 2010. Reporters asked Jones if he planned to sign Garrett to an extension, the seat beneath him no longer hot. They were serious.
Or Rolando McClain. The linebacker who sealed that victory with an interception late in the fourth quarter sat at his locker. He stared straight ahead into space and chugged water and just said "God is good" over and over. At one point, he added a "so are we."
It was that kind of afternoon at CenturyLink Field, as the Cowboys defeated the defending Super Bowl champions and solidified their status as an NFC contender, perhaps even the early favorite. They beat the Seahawks in all the ways that teams aren’t supposed to beat the Seahawks. They ran the ball. They stopped the run. They contained quarterback Russell Wilson. They beat the Seahawks the way the Seahawks beat other teams.
It was impressive, but even if Romo felt that way, he refused to acknowledge much significance. He answered questions without emotion, his voice monotone, his face blank. Someone mentioned the Cowboys’ massive advantage in time of possession (37:39-22:21), their third-down conversion rate (10-of-17), Romo’s two touchdowns and 250 passing yards. He shrugged again.
"We’ve been doing that every game," he said. "That’s not anything new."
Except it was new. Romo did on Sunday what Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees could not do in recent years -- beat the Seahawks in Seattle. That’s a Mount Rushmore of NFL signal-callers that came into this stadium, up against a crowd so loud the ground shakes and a defense stout enough to do the same to offensive coordinators.
Before Sunday, the Seahawks had won 19 of their previous 20 home games. The scores of those games totaled look like a misprint: 584-273.
In the same stadium where Romo bobbled the snap for a short, chip shot field goal that would have beaten Seattle in the 2006 playoffs, he made the plays on Sunday that made the difference. Two came on the drive that gave the Cowboys the lead for good.
They trailed 23-20, with 8:16 left in the fourth quarter. Romo had fumbled earlier. He mishandled a shotgun snap delivered earlier than he expected. That, combined with a series of special teams miscues -- a blocked punt for a touchdown, a fumbled punt return that led to a touchdown -- allowed the Seahawks to creep in front in a game the Cowboys’ mostly dominated.
Dallas faced a 3rd-and-5 at the 25-yard-line, and as the crowd stomped and Seahawks’ defenders danced out of their huddle, it felt like the kind of situation where Romo would throw up an interception. He did throw, up the right sideline, with the All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman in coverage. Dez Bryant caught that ball. It went for 16 yards.
Same drive. Third-and-20 at the 31-yard-line. Game all but over. The perfect time for a bad decision, a miscue, a bobbled snap. Instead, Romo dropped back, eluded a sack, spun, sprinted right and lobbed a spiral into the tightest of windows for receiver Terrance Williams at the sideline. Williams stabbed both toes inside the boundary, good for a 23-yard gain.
"The game is in our hands then," the Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll, said of the tenor of the game before Williams caught that ball. "It was that significant."
That’s the kind of play that playoff teams make, the difference between the Cowboys usual record in recent seasons (8-8) and their start to this one (5-1). Before Sunday, it was fair to remain skeptical about the Dallas schedule, the wins over Houston, Tennessee, St. Louis and New Orleans. But not after Sunday, not after the way they beat the Seahawks.
Remember August? Early September? Jones told ESPN he had wanted to select Johnny Manziel in the draft but others talked him out of it. Romo was coming off back surgery. The Cowboys defense looked terrible in the opener, a loss to San Francisco.
America’s Team was America’s Train Wreck. An 8-8 record seemed like a reach.
The five wins followed. The running game clicked. DeMarco Murray remained healthy and jumped to the NFL lead in rushing. The defense played better, even looked dominant at times. But the thread that connected all of that was Romo, America’s favorite quarterback -- to malign.
In the victories, Romo threw eight touchdowns to two interceptions. He made the plays that win games and eliminated the plays that lose them. And on a Sunday afternoon in Seattle in October, Romo atoned for that playoff loss and set the tone (he hopes) for the remainder of this season.
Now Cowboys’ fans feel the same way as Terrell Owens once did. That’s their quarterback. (At least for this week.)