- Todd Archer, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Romo grin was replaced by the Romo wince.
"I don't have a broken rib now, so that's a positive," Romo said Thursday, three days before the Dallas Cowboys' rematch with the Redskins. "It just feels good. I don't know. You get used to playing hurt, but it's just a little different kind of thing."
Romo did not throw a touchdown pass against the Redskins on Sept. 26 -- the only time he has not reached the end zone through the air in his last 27 games -- but perhaps earned more respect and credit than at almost any point in his career after delivering an 18-16 win.
Then came his Rick Perry moment against Detroit when he threw three second-half interceptions and helped blow a 24-point lead to the Lions. He was hit harder publicly than he was by Ahmad Brooks on the hit that broke his ribs two weeks earlier in San Francisco.
Slowly Romo's health has returned, and so has the outside respect for what he means to the Cowboys. This week the talk isn't just about winning a third straight game, it's about winning the NFC East. And that's mostly because of how well the offense has performed.
For as well as DeMarco Murray has run the ball over the last month, he has scored only two touchdowns. Running the ball is meaningful, but that alone doesn't win you games.
Romo has thrown one interception in his last 154 passes, and that lone pick was a result of Martellus Bennett tipping a perfect pass into the arms of Philadelphia's Nnamdi Asomugha. Last week against Buffalo he had the 21st three-touchdown pass game of his career. He completed 88.5 percent of his passes (23 of 26). Both marks are franchise records.
On the season, Romo's 97.7 passer rating is bettered only by Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, New England's Tom Brady and New Orleans' Drew Brees. His 16 touchdown passes are tied for sixth-best in the league. He is on pace to throw 12 interceptions, which would be the second fewest he has had in a full season. His completion percentage (64.7) is fifth in the league.
Yet each week he walks a high wire with those who believe he will one day achieve the ultimate goal, but with more believing loudly that he never will. They are sports' version of the rubbernecker.
One poor game Sunday at FedEx Field against the Redskins, another Detroit- or New York Jets-type collapse, and that high wire will shake violently in the wind for Romo once again.
But by this point in his career, Romo is used to the Flying Wallendas act.
"I think you're always going to be asked that question until you do it," Romo said of winning a title. "Then if you do it, well, I'm sure there will be something. I don't know. It's just part of playing."
The search for what has triggered Romo's recent spate of high-level play has led squarely to Murray's legs. If defenses load up the line to stop Murray, Romo will throw it to his wide receivers. And he now has time to throw his passes.
If you're looking for the magic potion, then it is that time in the pocket, according to Romo, just as much as Murray's running.
"At this level you get to a certain point and it's 'Do you have enough time to do the things you [need to] in an offense?' If you do, you're going to perform at a higher level," Romo said. "If you have a lot less time, you're not. There's a reason why every quarterback that goes to San Francisco struggles. He has less time to go through his reads than you do on other weeks because they have a great pass rush."
Romo threw for 345 yards and two touchdowns, mostly with a broken rib and a punctured lung, against the 49ers in Week 2. He could not put his tie or jacket on after the game without help. He had a difficult time breathing, and the hugs from his parents were as light as a feather.
Two months later, he is back on top of the high wire looking down, not with a wince, but with a smile.
Todd Archer covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.
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