EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eight months ago, Tony Romo made the long, slow walk to the team bus outside MetLife Stadium wondering how the Dallas Cowboys let a playoff spot slip away with another late-season fade.
On Wednesday night, Romo made the same long, slow walk to the team bus with two bags slung over his shoulders, his head up and with a feeling of promise after the Cowboys beat the New York Giants, 24-17.
"I don't think you downplay it or up-play it," Romo said in a near empty locker room. "It's a big win obviously because we beat a divisional rival on the road and those are tough wins to come by, especially ones that are against the defending champs. But at the same time, if we want to get to where we want to go, you've got to put your head down and grind again and you just have to keep, win or loss, do it again.
"It makes the feeling better when you win, but it's going to be the same approach when I get back [Thursday] as if we had lost. You have to make it that way. It's the only way to get to where you want to be in this league."
Romo completed 22 of 29 passes for 307 yards with three touchdowns and an interception against a defense that battered him last December and January into submission with a ferocious pass rush. When he was sacked on the offense's second play Wednesday, you wondered if anything had changed since January.
But he was sacked just once more and continuously got out of trouble and made big plays when it was necessary.
In other words, he was Romo.
He did it with his top pass catcher, Jason Witten, playing for the first time in 23 days because of a lacerated spleen. He did it behind an offensive line that had not taken a snap together in the preseason because of injuries. Three plays into the game, he was without starting center Phil Costa, who left with a back injury, and was taking snaps from Ryan Cook, who was not a Cowboy a week ago.
He did it with Miles Austin playing for the first time all summer, and Dez Bryant for the first time in more than two weeks. He did it with Kevin Ogletree serving as the No. 3 receiver for the first time.
"When things weren't there, I thought for the most part he was really good with the football and again I thought his demeanor was outstanding," coach Jason Garrett said. "A lot of success, a lot of big plays that he made he kept going. When things weren't perfect, he kept going and I think our guys followed his leadership."
Romo seems to excel when things aren't perfect. His first touchdown pass to Ogletree -- a 10-yarder in the second quarter -- came after he stepped away from trouble with the right arm of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul almost grazing him.
"Oh, I felt him, yeah," Romo said.
But then Romo delivered a perfect pass over Jacquian Williams to Ogletree to give the Cowboys a lead they would never lose.
Ogletree's second touchdown was reminiscent of some of the touchdowns his predecessor as the No. 3 receiver, Laurent Robinson, scored last season. Romo slid to his right with Osi Umenyiora coming up the middle and Ogletree adjusted his route down the field past cornerback Corey Webster for a 40-yard score.
"That's first-hand how he makes plays," Witten said of Romo's improvisation.
The game-clinching touchdown was not so much improvisation as it was intelligence. For most of the game, Romo noticed the Giants' cornerbacks "playing with their butts to the sideline," forcing the receivers inside.
At the New York 34 in the fourth quarter, Romo noticed Justin Tryon lined up on the inside of Austin and changed the route combination.
"Miles went up and did the rest," Romo said of Austin's leaping grab. "If the cornerback's not looking, then he's not going to be able to make a play on the ball."
Romo clinched the game with another slant to Ogletree, picking up 13 yards on a third-and-10 from the Dallas 26. He was able to take a knee three times to kill the clock, and some of that doubt that crept in last January.
"Hey, listen, he's playing for a lot more than just one win," Witten said. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but, yeah, this is a big win for our team."