Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) pumps his fist as he celebrates a touchdown pass to Cole Beasley during the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
Brandon Wade
December 22, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys don't have worry about a win-and-you're-in finale this year.

They're in.

Dallas ended a four-year playoff drought Sunday in a dominating 42-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, with Romo throwing four touchdown passes and breaking Troy Aikman's franchise record for yards passing.

After three straight season-ending losses that left them at 8-8 and out of the postseason, the Cowboys (11-4) don't have to worry about winning at Washington next weekend. They are NFC East champions for the first time since 2009 a week early.

''I just don't have bad Christmases. I've been too fortunate,'' owner Jerry Jones said. ''On the other hand, to have the promise of getting ready to compete in the playoffs, but with a team that can compete in the playoffs ... we've got a chance to do something.''

The Colts (10-5) didn't have much to play for with the AFC South title secured, and looked like it while they barely avoided their first shutout loss in 21 years. Falling behind 28-0 by midway through the second quarter, they lost a slim chance to earn a first-round bye.

''Yeah, it was a dismal start,'' said Andrew Luck, who threw for a season-low 109 yards with two interceptions and was pulled in the third quarter with the game out of hand. ''It was bad. A lot of bad. Not much good, if any.''

Coming off back surgery that kept him out of last year's season-ending loss to the Eagles, and another back injury sustained against Washington in October, the 34-year-old Romo had his fifth game with a passer rating of at least 135. He completed 18 of 20 passes for 218 yards.

''I think the way he's played this year, the way great quarterbacks in this league have played for a long time, that's how Troy played,'' said coach Jason Garrett, who was Aikman's backup in Dallas. ''We ran the ball really, really well, controlled the line of scrimmage. And when Tony had opportunities today, and really throughout the year, he cashed in on them.''

Things to consider after the Cowboys emphatically ended a three-game home losing streak, scoring touchdowns on their first four possessions while eliminating division rival Philadelphia from the playoffs a day after the Eagles gave them an opening by losing to the Redskins:

ANOTHER ROMO RECORD: In his eighth full season as the starter, Romo broke Aikman's record on a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jason Witten, his teammate since they came into the league together 11 years ago.

Nobody has caught more passes from Romo than Witten, who clinched his 11th straight 600-yard season.

''We literally were on the same bus from the airport when we arrived in Dallas for our first rookie minicamps,'' said Romo, who has 32,971 career yards, 29 more than the three-time Super Bowl winner. ''He's obviously just got a special place in my heart.''

OH BY THE WAY: NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray had 22 carries for 58 yards and a 1-yard score six days after surgery for a broken left hand. He was injured in last week's win at Philadelphia that put the Cowboys in position to win the division.

''It was hurting throughout the game, but I made my mind up a long time ago that I was going to play,'' said Murray, who needs 29 yards to break all-time NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith's franchise record of 1,773 yards from 1995.

PLAYING FOR POSITION: With a home playoff game already in hand, Indianapolis sat receiver T.Y. Hilton (groin injury) and right tackle Gosder Cherilus. The Colts had season lows in points and total yards (229) for the second straight week, and finished with just 1 yard rushing.

The Cowboys could face a similar scenario next weekend. It's possible they could earn a first-round bye regardless of whether they beat the Redskins. ''Whatever happens, I will be fine either way,'' said Romo, who came out in the third quarter of a loss at Washington in the 2007 finale when Dallas had the NFC's No. 1 seed in hand.

FLUBBED FAKE: Indianapolis had Dallas beaten on a fake punt after three straight running plays on its first possession. But a backpedaling Dewey McDonald, left uncovered on the outside, dropped punter Pat McAfee's perfect throw.

''I took my eyes off of it for just a split second,'' said McDonald, whose flub came right in front of the Colts' bench.

DAZZLING DEZ: Dallas receiver Dez Bryant had his NFL-leading 14th touchdown for a 14-0 lead the first play after McDonald's flub on the fake punt. He caught a scoring pass in his 12th consecutive game against the AFC to extend the longest interconference streak since the 1970 merger.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL


Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

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