Cowboys' 5-game skid all about injured Romo? Yes and no
IRVING, Texas (AP) Jason Witten was as happy as anyone to have Tony Romo back on the practice field, even though the Dallas tight end won't see his quarterback in a game for at least two more weeks because of a broken left collarbone.
As for leaning on Romo's five-game absence to explain the five-game losing streak that goes along with it, Witten says forget it.
''Of course we're missing key players, yeah,'' Witten said. ''But that's not a crutch to what we want to do as an offense. We stay together, and we believe we can accomplish that.''
Technically, the Cowboys (2-5) won without Romo because they finished off a 20-10 win at Philadelphia after he got hurt in the third quarter in Week 2. But Dallas hasn't won an entire game without him going into the rematch with the Eagles (3-4) on Sunday night.
Matt Cassel lost the past two after Brandon Weeden went 0-3. The last time the Cowboys won a meaningful game without Romo? Try 2008, with Brad Johnson in a 13-9 midseason victory over Tampa Bay when Romo was out with a broken pinkie.
Dallas won that game with just 172 total yards, and winning a game with defense was one of the ideas this time around.
But the few times a mostly sputtering offense has come through, the defense hasn't made the critical stop. Even after playing well for most of last weekend's 13-12 loss to Seattle, the Cowboys let Russell Wilson direct a winning drive to a field goal late in the fourth quarter.
Then there was the time the defense didn't even get a chance after a tying touchdown. Dallas let former teammate Dwayne Harris return a kickoff for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the New York Giants' 27-20 victory.
Essentially, it's hard to figure out how to view the losing streak: through critical breakdowns, or through the absence of Romo and All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant, who missed five games with a broken right foot before returning against the Seahawks.
''I think you just have to be objective about what's gone on,'' said coach Jason Garrett, whose previous longest losing streak in five years as coach was two games. ''There's been a lot of really good things over the course of this, but obviously it's not good enough.''
Romo did some light throwing on the side at Wednesday's practice, but wasn't as active Thursday. Garrett said even if Romo were eligible to play, he wouldn't be ready because the bone on his non-throwing shoulder is still healing.
By next week, there could be more of an attempt to get the 35-year-old involved in practice, although Garrett seems hesitant to take many reps away from Cassel as long as he's the starter for the upcoming game. Same with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
''There was no big plan this week other than to throw enough to see how it feels, get a lot of conditioning work with the strength guys,'' Linehan said. ''We're focused a lot on this week and what we're doing that way. But Tony's getting himself ready to go when he's allowed to go.''
The Cowboys need to win the next two for the most realistic hopes of defending their NFC East title. But the other division rivals keep losing, too.
So it's possible that a loss to the Eagles could mean Dallas is back in Tampa Bay, facing a win-or-else scenario on the same field where Johnson won with Romo sidelined seven years ago.
''The only way you can look at it is we've got to win,'' receiver Cole Beasley said. ''We've got to focus on this next game and just worry about winning this one. Then we'll worry about the next one.''
NOTES: RB Trey Williams was signed off Washington's practice squad after former starter Joseph Randle was waived. Williams is likely to be inactive behind Christine Michael and Rod Smith for at least a week. ... S Barry Church didn't practice for the second straight day because of a high ankle sprain, but Garrett is optimistic he will play Sunday.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler