Tony Romo called Jerry Jones, who at the time was in the visitors’ suite at Lincoln Financial Field when he learned the news.
“We both were sick,” Jones said.
Romo’s broken left clavicle, sustained in the third quarter here Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles as he scrambled for a fumble, is the same injury that shelved him for the season in 2010. It came on a similar play, a crunching tackle that drilled Romo shoulder-first into the turf. Romo winced immediately after hearing a pop. He mouthed, “It’s broken,” on his way to the locker room. He was right.
Is the season broken too?
Jones said he felt “about as low as a crippled cricket’s ass” when he saw Romo lying on his back again. He wasn’t alone.
This was supposed to be the year when the Cowboys had a true chance at a Super Bowl. Now they must fight to stay atop the NFC East without their franchise quarterback and their franchise receiver. Romo is out eight-to-10 weeks, according to a Yahoo Sports report with more tests pending Monday. Dez Bryant is out with a broken foot, and on Sunday NFL Network reported that he may miss up to 12 weeks.
As the Cowboys walked off the field Sunday, having crushed the rival Eagles 20-10 to go 2-0 on the season, it was hard to sense what they had truly accomplished. Two division wins also bequeathed two season-threatening setbacks. Few of the Cowboys smiled, or spoke, as the players entered the victorious locker room.
“It was a great victory,” said defensive end Jeremy Mincey. “But a huge loss.”
Mincey said he hurried over to Romo on the sideline when he emerged from the locker room in a sling.
“You all right?” Mincey said, hopefully. “Everything good?”
Everything wasn’t good. At all.
“He looked sad,” Mincey said. “I seen it in his eyes.”
Romo indeed looked glum after the game, walking slowly into the locker room with a jacket over his sling. A team official asked Romo if he needed help carrying his bag. It was a poignant moment – the guy in charge of carrying the whole franchise’s hopes suddenly being asked if he needed someone to help with his luggage.
“I felt it,” Romo said of the injury. “It has a little bit of a pop to it. Obviously I’ve felt it before. Your body kind of goes into a little bit of shock.”
There’s a strange silver lining, as Romo’s fragility may have a positive side effect for this team. Romo doesn’t practice until halfway through the week, so the receivers are already comfortable with Brandon Weeden.
“This isn’t that different for us because we see Brandon every week to start off the week,” receiver Terrance Williams said. “He can get it there. Left field, right hash, he can get it there. With Tony not there, we have to lock in from play to play.”
And some of Romo’s leadership will still be available, even from the sideline. Williams said Romo called the team’s last touchdown, which Williams caught.
“As we were standing on the sideline, he kept telling [offensive coordinator] Scott [Linehan] this is the play to run – they’re in Cover 1,” Williams said. “I don’t know how he knew it; he told Scott and he called the play. Seriously, I’m standing on the sideline and he knew on third down that they were going to run Cover 1. He got Scott to call the play.”
Williams heaped more credit onto Romo, saying the quarterback encouraged him throughout the week to work on quick hands and quick feet against cornerback Byron Maxwell.
“He’s a great corner,” Williams said. “Guys like that are heavy-handed, and you have to give him something to get him on his heels. The more I did that, it kind of backed him off a tad bit more, until the last play he was seven yards off.”
Advice like this will help immeasurably over the next month or two – Weeden has already told Romo “I’m gonna need him” – but it’s not a replacement for the kind of know-how Romo showed in his game-winning drive against the New York Giants in Week 1. That ability is why Romo is a superstar and Weeden is not, and a team that had the best quarterback in the division coming into Sunday suddenly has no real advantage at that position. The Cowboys’ best skill position player is now Williams, especially with Jason Witten nursing two sprained ankles and a sprained knee.
Strangely, that makes the Cowboys’ defense the strength of the team now. That unit suffocated Eagles running back DeMarco Murray on Sunday, holding him to two yards rushing on 13 carries. That was a special feat, but it’s hard to imagine the defense stifling Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Tom Brady in the same way it throttled Sam Bradford here. Romo compensated for whatever mistakes the defense made. Weeden must somehow compensate for Romo’s absence.
“Kinda ripped a chunk out of me a little bit,” Mincey said about Romo’s injury.
That’s the Cowboys right now: two huge wins and two huge losses, riding high in the standings and still as low as a crippled cricket’s ass.