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Sunday, September 7, 2008
Romo, Cowboys play 'best game' against the Browns

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

CLEVELAND -- Cowboys quarterback and budding philosopher Tony Romo talks about how important it is to enjoy the journey instead of skipping ahead to the destination. And judging by Sunday's result, a 28-10 victory, Cleveland was the perfect point of origin for a season of lofty expectations.

 
  Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Tony Romo and the Cowboys made it look easy against the Browns.

The most hyped team in the NFL thoroughly embarrassed the Browns, an alleged AFC contender, in a 28-10 victory that was over by halftime. The famed Dawg Pound replaced barks with boos as players retreated to the locker room trailing by two touchdowns.

Browns GM Phil Savage was lauded far and wide when he traded draft picks for two defensive tackles in April. But the presence of Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams only added to the humiliation. Playing behind an offensive line that included three Pro Bowlers from last year, Romo appeared to count to 10 Mississippi several times before firing passes to Jason Witten, Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton.

The second touchdown of the game typified the night for the Cowboys. One play after left guard Corey Procter was flagged for tugging at Rogers' jersey as he raced toward Romo, the Browns tried to mix in a rare blitz.

Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson raced in from the right side, but Procter, filling in for the injured Kyle Kosier, put Jackson on his back. With extended time in the pocket, Romo delivered a perfect throw to T.O. for a 35-yard touchdown. Still in the Olympic spirit, T.O. kicked both legs and lined up in a sprinter's pose as if he were facing Jamaica's Usain Bolt in the 100 meters. T.O. was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, but no one on the Cowboys' sideline seemed overly concerned.

"They said I touched the ground," he said. "I'm really just kind of unclear. You can't have fun, you can't do anything."

League officials were planning to meet Sunday night to discuss which Olympic events could be reenacted following touchdowns. Since putting your hands on the ground is a no-no, perhaps a triple-jump on the way off the field might be permissible.

Unfortunately for the Browns, the Cowboys had plenty of opportunities to celebrate. Romo's known for his ability to go through reads at a rapid rate, but on Sunday, he had time to ponder his options. The entire first half took on the feel of a 7-on-7 drill during training camp, with the Browns playing the role of the scout team.

Cleveland kept it interesting early with a 16-play scoring drive that took 8:57 off the clock and was aided by a pass interference penalty on cornerback Adam Jones in the end zone. After the drive, the Browns were pretty much done -- save for Romeo Crennel's head-scratching decision to settle for a field goal in the fourth quarter while trailing 28-7.

Early in the second half, the Browns applied their first bit of pressure on Romo. On second-and-5, he dropped back to pass and was pounded by a combination of Kamerion Wimbley and Rogers. Replays showed him wincing in pain, but someone eventually pointed him back to the huddle. On third-and-5, he fired a bullet to Witten for 19 yards, and the Cowboys drove for their final score. After the game, he received stitches and was wearing a large patch on his chin.

In the postgame media session, every word out of his mouth seemed to cause some pain. Even his voice sounded different as he was asked about having so much time in the pocket in the first half.

"I think a lot of it depends on the coverage they run," he said. "They rushed three guys a lot. Sometimes it's tough because you work on getting yourself into a rhythm. The benefit for them to rush three guys is that they have more guys in coverage. The negative side is that they might get a quarterback that can go through more reads."

That's a fairly diplomatic way of saying, "I'm a quarterback who sort of enjoys the chance to spend seven or eight seconds looking for receivers."

While Romo searched for a team doctor, his best friend Witten pulled a couple of us aside to provide some insight.

"I think that was [Romo's] best game," Witten said. "He showed that he's a tough player by getting back up and completing that next pass ... I just think from executing the game plan and being smart with the ball, it was one of his best games, if not his best."

About that time, Romo walked past and said of Witten, "He's a good kid."

Other than running back Marion Barber having to leave the game in the second half with an injury to his ribs, it was the perfect start for a Cowboys offense that is supposed to be one of the best in the league.

A Cowboys source told ESPN's Ed Werder that Barber had damaged cartilage in his rib cage, but that painkilling injections and increased padding should allow him to play next Monday against the Eagles.

In Barber's absence, rookie Felix Jones put on a show. His first NFL carry went for an 11-yard touchdown and he finished with 62 yards on nine carries. Fellow rookie Tashard Choice finished with 26 yards on five carries in mop-up duty.

Cowboys Wade Phillips spent the week reminding his players that the Browns were 7-1 at home last season. But on this day, Phillips' team made home-field advantage a moot point.