- Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter
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PHILADELPHIA -- Over the years Tony Romo has made so many something-out-of-nothing plays that a lot of them become a blur.
The first-down scramble against St. Louis in 2007 when a shotgun snap went over his head comes to mind. There was a mad-capper against Atlanta in 2009 and a touchdown throw last year at Tampa Bay after he ran into one of his own offensive linemen.
And so many more.
Add a third-down pass from Sunday's 38-23 win against Philadelphia to that mix tape.
Trailing 17-10 in the third quarter with the season very much on the line, Romo got away a drive-ending sack when he slipped away from Fletcher Cox, under Jason Babin and through Cullen Jenkins before finding Miles Austin for a 25-yard gain. Three plays later, the Cowboys tied the score.
By the time Romo touched the football again, the Cowboys had a 31-17 lead thanks to a punt return for a touchdown and an interception return for a score.
"I don't rank them, but that one is No. 1," Romo joked of his escape.
If Sunday's win turns out to be more than just a mirage and something that actually leads to the Cowboys making a playoff run, that third-down "He did that how?" play will be remembered as the catalyst.
"Anybody's who's watched our football team and watched Tony play throughout his career, you see he's capable of making those kinds of plays," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "Where he's made such great strides as a player since he's been a starter in this league is he plays so well within the system, but then something that's so important is to be able to allow him to have that freedom to make those Romo-type plays. That's certainly a great example of that. He's got great vision, a great feel for people around him. He always keeps his eyes up. He seems to be able to make a lot of those plays in critical moments."
The Cowboys needed that kind of jolt. The defense allowed 10 points on Philadelphia's first two possessions of the second half despite the Eagles being forced to go with rookie Nick Foles because of Michael Vick's concussion.
On Dallas' first two drives of the second half, the Romo-led offense gained 1 yard. That's one more than you had watching the game in your lucky jersey, sitting in your lucky chair.
On third-and-5 from the Dallas 39, Romo's initial option was to tight end Jason Witten, but Witten was double-covered. Romo then looked to Austin underneath but saw a defender closing on his wide receiver and decided not to throw the ball right away. These thoughts were all racing through his mind as colors flew around in front of him. First a flash of green that forced him to spin to his left. Then another green jersey to his right and in front of him that brought him back to his right.
"We kind of lost momentum a little bit," Romo said. "There's a time and place to almost give yourself a chance to extend the play sometimes, and that was an opportunity for it, I thought."
As good as that play was, it wouldn't have mattered if the Cowboys hadn't finished the drive with a touchdown to tie the score.
Facing third down three plays later from the Philadelphia 30, Romo again sidestepped the Eagles' pass rush as Dez Bryant raced down the field. With a smidge of space to the inside of Bryant to keep cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on his back, Romo placed the ball perfectly for the touchdown.
Last week at Atlanta, former Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel was able to climb under Bryant and knock the pass away in the end zone. This time Bryant was able to keep his route more vertical so Rodgers-Cromartie could not make a play.
"I think you love the one-on-one matchup with Dez," Romo said. "That's a great thing, especially when you don't have a single-high safety in there."
It was Romo's first third-down touchdown pass of the season, and it finished a solid night with the money on the table. Romo completed 7 of 10 passes for 83 yards on third down with one sack. He entered the game as the NFL's 29th-ranked passer on third down and had no touchdown passes and four interceptions.
Romo could have thrown it shorter for a safer throw and a first down, but he went for the touchdown.
"I just think that's an example of how we play offensive football," Garrett said. "We very rarely like to take the freedom away from the quarterback. We like to give him answers and options. Tony is an outstanding quarterback. He sees what the defense is trying to do and tries to throw it to the appropriate guy."
At 4-5, the Cowboys are alive. Scrambling, but alive.
"Obviously the importance of this game was at the highest of levels," Romo said. "And I don't know that we're thinking about anything other than exactly the same feeling that we have to go get another win. We're still in the hole. We're still 4-5. We're still having to battle out."
Tony Romo may have saved season with improvisation in key play in third quarter.