"I think we're a football team that has small margin for error," Romo said. "I think we understand that we have to play a very sound football game with little or no turnovers each football game we play in. We've done a good job of that all season and we didn't do that as well last week, so we got to go back to that."
Romo was intercepted twice late in the fourth quarter of last weekend's 37-36 loss to the Packers, setting up Green Bay's winning score and ending the Cowboys' chances at a comeback. The Cowboys are 1-2 when they score at least at least 35 points in a game this season. The rest of the NFL is 51-2 when it scores at least 35 points.
The Dallas defense has given up a franchise record for yards in a season (5,982) and is on pace to give up the most points in a season in team history. Despite the woes, Romo carries belief into Sunday's game against the 3-11 Washington Redskins.
"Everything that you've done this whole offseason and throughout the season is to build to this point," Romo said. "I think we have an opportunity to do something these next two weeks that get us in the playoffs and win the NFC East. And not a lot of teams can say that in our division right now. Two of them are done, two of them have a chance."
Scandrick isn't hiding from the fact. The film doesn't lie, and neither do the numbers.
Scandrick, who has been the victim of highlight-reel catches by Chicago's Alshon Jeffery and Green Bay's Jordy Nelson the last two weeks, is trying to find ways to regain the form he's had most of the season.
“Obviously the last couple of weeks, I would have loved to play better,” Scandrick said. “I haven't played up to the standards I set the first 12 weeks. But I don't want to start thinking about like, ‘Oh, no.' I don't want to be afraid to make a play or afraid that it's going to happen again.
“I mean, it's not like I'm going against no-name guys, but that's not an excuse. I've got to figure out a way to make those plays. ... Nobody wants it more than me. I've just got to keep grinding and banging away and figure out a way to make it.”
With the Cowboys ranked dead last in total defense and having already set the team record for yards allowed, Scandrick has plenty of company among defenders searching for solutions. Career backup quarterbacks Josh McCown and Matt Flynn have combined for 647 yards and eight touchdowns on 53-of-75 passing against the Dallas defense the past two weeks.
Scandrick mentioned the need for the Cowboys' healthy defensive starters, particularly in the secondary, to do more with injuries eroding the front seven.
“There is no damn fine line,” Scandrick said when asked about the balance between trying to do more and attempting to do too much. “I feel like I can't let people catch balls on me or, oh, no, we don't have a shot. Clearly I can't have an off day or somewhat off day, because it's all magnified and you see the results.”
“If you make a guy feel like you’ve got trust in him, you believe in him and you’re behind him, it makes you go extra hard, just like me. If I’m down and I know I’ve got somebody behind me, keeping me up, you’re going to make me work harder than I worked before. We’re all behind him.”
Bryant’s admittedly biased opinion is that Romo ranks among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL. That hasn’t influenced Romo’s penchant for throwing ill-timed, costly picks, including two in Dallas' final two drives during Sunday's meltdown against Green Bay.
Romo has thrown seven interceptions while leading by seven points or fewer in the fourth quarter or overtime of an eventual loss, the most by an NFL quarterback since Romo became a starter in 2006, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
What does Bryant base his faith in Romo on?
“He wants to win,” Bryant said. “It’d be different if he didn’t want to win. Everybody would be just lollygagging and going on about their business. But it’s different.
“He wants to win, and we’re going to stay behind him. That’s what we’re going to do. That’s what we want to do. And we believe. We’re just going to continue to keep believing. That’s all we can do.”
Romo has risen to clutch occasions in several instances, too. He has engineered 11 game-winning drives in the last two seasons, which also leads the league.
"I don’t think anybody ever would lose confidence in him," tight end Jason Witten said. "Everything we are and we have accomplished over the last few years that you believe in and you hold onto is because of him and what he creates week in and week out and day in and day out. I don’t think you look at a couple of plays and determine… I think that’d be foolish for anybody to do that.
"Having said that, just like all elite quarterbacks, until you overcome it and prove it, you’re going to deal with that. It wasn’t too long that it wasn’t one of the best ever, the guy up in Denver, who had to deal with that as well. I think that’s part of playing the position. That doesn’t minimize his decision-making and all that. Obviously he’s a great player and that’s what makes him great. You don’t lose confidence in a guy like that. He does too much for your football team."
"I put that on myself just because it was built into the play," Callahan said after Thursday's practice. "That’s how I look at it. We can do better. I can do better, certainly."
During a nearly 20-minute discussion with reporters, Callahan said Romo didn't actually audible from run to pass, but the play call is designed where if the defense gives the offense a certain look, then the play changes.
Callahan said some plays come with what NFL teams call "tags."
The play he sent to Romo came with a tag and when the defense stacked the line of scrimmage, it meant a pass should be used. Romo does have the discretion to not use the tag. But given how the second half was going for the Cowboys' defense, where it allowed three fourth-quarter touchdowns as part of a Packers rally, Romo felt he needed to be aggressive.
With Romo being aggressive, it hurt the Cowboys because he turned the ball over, throwing an interception on a pass intended to Miles Austin and it stopped the clock in a game where the team needed to work time off it.
"I just would say if we had to do it all over again, we certainly do it different," Callahan said. "That was the design of the play and we certainly can do better. Certainly, I can."
It's easy to second guess Garrett, for not calling a timeout after seeing Romo check out of the play, and Callahan for using a play with the option of passing the ball when running might have been a better option.
"The reason why [a tag is] on, it gets him out of issues and problems and things that can create a bad effect on a play," Callahan said. "If the box is loaded on one side and you try to run there and numerically they have too many people there, it's just common sense. You want to hand the ball off in front of an unblocked defender and have him blow up your back and create a fumble? [Say] you ran the ball though, but the result wouldn’t have been good."
The Cowboys need to win their remaining two regular-season games to clinch the NFC East title and a potential No.4 seed in the playoffs.
While Ware was getting some practice time in, starting cornerback Brandon Carr missed the session with an illness. Cornerback Morris Claiborne (hamstring), wide receiver Dwayne Harris (hamstring), linebackers Sean Lee (neck) and Ernie Sims (groin), and wide receiver Terrance Williams (hamstring) missed practice as well.
Claiborne ruled himself out of Sunday's game, and Lee is doubtful.
Starting defensive end Jason Hatcher (stinger), starting linebacker Bruce Carter (hamstring), and defensive tackle Jarius Wynn (chest) were limited in practice.
Defensive end DeMarcus Ware (back) returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's session. Coach Jason Garrett said Ware's back problem wasn't considered serious.
Fellow starting defensive end George Selvie returned to practice too, after missing practice with a tight back.
Dwayne Harris (hamstring), Ernie Sims (groin) and Terrance Williams (hamstring) missed practice.
Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli likes to use fresh players on the field as one of the reasons for a rotation. Marinelli keeps hustle stats whereas he wants linemen to run down field on pass plays. If they don't those players get a negative grade.
In theory that's how the Cowboys can create turnovers if a receiver or running back sprints down field, a defensive lineman comes from behind and can force a strip. The fresher the player the better chance you have of making a play.
Which brings us to DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher.
There are times when both men are off the field at the same time especially on some third-down plays.
One would think Ware and Hatcher need to be on the field for at least 90 percent of the snaps. Against Green Bay, Ware played in 54 of 68 total plays while Hatcher contributed in 52 plays.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was asked why Ware and Hatcher are off the field so much.
"Oh, I don’t know," he said. "I think it just depends on the situation. They get taxed out a little bit and things like that. They need a break here and there. DWare, you can say whatever you want, the guy’s been banged up. He’s trying to play hurt, and you’ve got to admire the guy for that. But he wants to play better and we want him to play better."
Ware has struggled of late.
After getting two sacks each in Weeks 2 and 3, he hasn't compiled at least one sack in consecutive weeks since. Ware did miss three games with a quad injury, the first such games he's missed in his career and he was dealing with a nagging stinger. But Ware hasn't been a dominant force and was credited with two quarterback pressures against the Packers and five in the last two games.
Hatcher, after such a fast start, hasn't sacked the quarterback since getting two in Nov. 24 at the New York Giants. Hatcher was credited with just one quarterback pressure against the Packers.
And like Ware, he's dealing with some health issues. Hatcher missed the New Orleans game with a stinger, but returned the following week and picked up two sacks and two quarterback pressures against the Giants.
After that, zero sacks the next three weeks and four quarterback pressures over the same span.
Ware has said health isn't an issue for him anymore, but you wonder if it really is. Hatcher falls into the same boat and given his contract status, he becomes a free agent after the season, every snap he takes will be scrutinized.
Given the Cowboys delicate status for the postseason, having Hatcher and Ware on the field at least 80 percent of the time is vital to the success and seeing how bad the defense is playing this team needs everybody on the field making plays.
Cornerback Brandon Carr is hoping that happens, and if he's going to have a say about anything he's going to do it in an aggressive nature. Carr admits he hasn't been aggressive in pass coverage and opposing offenses notice.
"For myself, just be more aggressive and just get back my mentality that got me into these doors," said Carr, in his second season with the Cowboys. "I feel like I kind of went away from that. Whatever, that’s my fault. You get an opportunity to go out there Sunday and to prove yourself once again. I’m encouraged about that, I’m happy about it. It’s a chance for me to go out there and get back to playing like Brandon Carr."
To find his game, Carr is watching film of himself at Valley Ranch, during lunch and late nights at home. Carr has been an aggressive man-to-man corner who normally faces the opponent's best receiver. But after Calvin Johnson torched the Cowboys for 14 catches for 329 yards on Oct. 27, Carr has been a different player.
He was targeted 13 times overall that day including 12 passes directed toward him while he covered Johnson. Carr, according to Pro Football Focus, allowed nine receptions for 201 yards against Johnson. Carr was stiffed-armed along the way for an 87-yard catch-and-run by Johnson which is the longest play allowed from scrimmage this season by the Cowboys defense.
Carr said his confidence isn't down because this is what corners do, get beat, and bounce back up and make plays.
"They go from zero [targets] to three [targets]," Carr said. "It's increasing a little bit, its cool. My philosophy is if you keep trying me long enough, I'm gonna burn you one time. It's fine. I figure it will come at some point. Some teams are going to start working me and getting me action. Now I have to find a way to win and get some turnovers for our offense."
In the first nine games of the season it had 22 takeaways. In the last four games, the Cowboys have forced just four takeaways (two interceptions, two fumbles).
“Sometimes turnovers are like sacks,” defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. “They come in bunches. Hopefully they’ll work the other way the next week.”
The Washington Redskins had seven turnovers in last week’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Kirk Cousins had two interceptions and lost a fumble in his first start of the season.
“We just got to get back in our mentality to just stripping the football, guys running to the football, trying to get deflections, the D-line trying to get tips,” linebacker Bruce Carter said. “It’s just got to be on our mind. The ball has got to be our main issue, just taking it away, just trying to get more opportunities for our offense to score.”
The Cowboys have six defensive or special teams touchdowns this season. Dwayne Harris had an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Redskins in the first meeting and a 90-yard kickoff that set up another score in the 31-16 win.
Kiffin thought the Cowboys had their seventh miscellaneous touchdown of the season last week when Justin Durant forced a fumble at the goal line, but the play had been ruled dead.
The Cowboys are 4-1 this year when they score a defensive or special teams touchdown.
“A real important stat is miscellaneous touchdowns,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We talk about turnovers every week, but when you score miscellaneous touchdown … typically you win a lot of games. We have benefited from that all year long. We haven’t gotten them as much the last couple of weeks. Those are big plays. They change field position. They change momentum. They have a huge impact on the game. We've got to keep getting them.”
Monte Kiffin, the Cowboys' defensive coordinator, said he's never had a defense this bad. He can remember only two occasions in his long career when his defense blew a big lead. The first person to beat him in such fashion was Peyton Manning when he played for Indianapolis and Kiffin was in Tampa Bay. The other time was last weekend, when Matt Flynn and Green Bay rallied from a 26-3 deficit to beat Dallas.
Kiffin is trying to forge ahead with a defense that won't have middle linebacker Sean Lee, nickel corner Morris Claiborne or strongside linebacker Justin Durant. The injuries to the unit, coupled with the ineffective play, have been unnerving to those inside Valley Ranch.
But Kiffin believes his defense can rebound in the final two games of the regular season.
"I walk in that room, whatever time we meet, 8:30 in the morning. It starts with coach Garrett," Kiffin said. "You go into your defensive room and you split up and away you go. You walk in, 'Get your heads up, let’s go.' That’s the way it works. We ain’t going to pout around. We’ll be ready to play."
Kiffin is still settling on his starting linebackers. Ernie Sims, battling groin and hip problems, is the middle linebacker. Bruce Carter is the weakside backer and Kyle Wilber is on the strong side. DeVonte Holloman are the nickel backers. The backups are Orie Lemon and Cameron Lawrence.
If Sims can't play, Holloman moves in as middle linebacker. Lemon said he can work on both outside linebacker spots if need be. Wilber remains the strongside linebacker regardless.
The Cowboys are going to need healthy linebackers because the Washington Redskins come in with the third-best rushing offense in the NFL.
"A good offensive line," Kiffin said. "They run and throw it. We know we’ve got a little extra tutorship going on and things like that. We’ve just got to do the best we can. We’re going to show up and we’re going to play hard and whoever is out there is going to do a heck of a job."
One of the main themes of Kiffin's 4-3 scheme is turnovers, and fittingly the Cowboys are tied for third in turnover differential at plus-11. In the first six weeks of the season, the Cowboys forced 12 turnovers. On Sunday, newly signed cornerback Sterling Moore picked off a Flynn pass for the Cowboys' third interception in the last six games.
"You just have to keep doing it," Kiffin said. "Like I say sometimes, turnovers are like sacks. They come in bunches. Hopefully they’ll work the other way the next week."