Romo's return near as Cowboys try to end skid without him
IRVING, Texas (AP) Tony Romo, scout team quarterback.
That's the best the Dallas star could do the past two weeks in his return from a broken left collarbone, so he was still watching while the Cowboys' losing streak grew to six games without him, the team's longest in the same season in 26 years.
Naturally, there's a bit of anticipation for his likely start next week at Miami, even if that means peeking past Sunday's visit to Tampa Bay (3-5). But there are limits to that eagerness for the Cowboys (2-6).
''You can't sit and wait on Romo,'' defensive lineman Jeremy Mincey said. ''He's not Jesus, you know? You can't sit and wait on him because there's some games we could've easily won without him being there. So it's our fault.''
Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden are both 0-3 trying to replace Romo, and Cassel will get likely the last chance to break that drought in what could be his final start for Dallas after coming over in a trade with Buffalo following the injury to Romo in a Week 2 win at Philadelphia.
Cassel has filled in for a franchise quarterback before, but not as something of a lame-duck starter. The job was his for the final 15 games in New England in 2008, when the Patriots finished 11-5 and missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker after Tom Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury in the opener.
''You knew that Tom wasn't coming back for the year, and we've known that Tony was going to come back at some point,'' said Cassel, who struggled in the first two starts but is coming off his best outing, despite an interception that played a key role in Philadelphia's overtime win last weekend.
''But at the same time, you do what you can with the time that you get.''
Since Cassel obviously still needed first-team work in practice, most of Romo's time in game simulations in practice was with the scout team. He was doing that as early as last week, the first week he was eligible to practice while still on the injured list with a designation for return.
Romo briskly jogged onto the practice field a few minutes late Friday, with All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant just behind him, and eagerly called for a ball before he had reached the quarterback group making soft warm-up tosses. Romo hasn't had a session with reporters since he was injured.
''We're anxious to get him back,'' tight end Jason Witten said. ''He's our franchise quarterback, our leader, but our focus has been on this week of getting the win and getting ourselves back in position. We're worried about next week when we get there with him coming back.''
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan says Romo looks ''close to being 100 percent'' in practice. And while Linehan's primary focus is the weekly work with Cassel, he's doing a little peeking ahead himself as well.
''We have a plan each day and I kept an eye on him ... just to see he looked the same and I didn't see anything that concerned or alarmed me,'' Linehan said. ''Like riding a bike, he's going to be ready to go.''
Probably no more scout team work for Romo, starting next week.
NOTES: LB Sean Lee (concussion) was ruled out Friday against the Buccaneers, and fellow LBs Rolando McClain (hand, foot) and Anthony Hitchens (ankle) are questionable. If McClain and Hitchens don't play, Dallas' depth at linebacker will be severely tested. ... A day after Bryant had several profanity-laced tirades at reporters in the locker room, coach Jason Garrett said the receiver ''didn't handle that situation the right way'' and that they had discussed it. He said Bryant was receptive to the message. ''I believe that 100 percent of our guys do things the right way about 98 percent of the time,'' Garrett said.
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