Analysis

Tony Romo's return has Cowboys believing in the unbelievable

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Tony Romo's wife and friends were standing just a few feet away, waiting anxiously to see their man after his successful return to football Sunday afternoon, so it made sense that Romo's time was tight.

He nonetheless obliged for a quick on-camera interview to air on NFL Network -- two brief questions to discuss both the game that was now an hour behind him and the one that was only four days ahead of him.

"In the past, we've played against a few teams that have been undefeated," Romo said during the interview, eyeing his next task of playing the 10-0 Carolina Panthers on Thanksgiving Day. "We'll try and look back to some of those times and see what we can do."

The interview ended, and Romo started toward his crew. But then something struck him, something he had to get out. He turned back, sprouted a smile and said, "And what I mean is ... We've beaten a few teams that have been undefeated."

You can say what you want about the Dallas Cowboys' slim prospects of making the playoffs. You can question the likelihood of a team following up seven consecutive losses with seven consecutive wins, all because of one player's injury and subsequent return. This is all very fair; quite frankly, the loyalists who argue the contrary might be the more mildly foolish.

But, man, you can't question this: Romo might be among the very few people on this planet capable of making his teammates, a billionaire owner and a massive fan base buy into the possibility of the impossible. That swagger is straight-up contagious.

"We believe," said Jason Witten, summing up the mentality with two simple words.

See, it isn't so much the impact of a 24-14 win over a subpar Dolphins squad that matters here. (No doubt, that'll instead serve as fuel for the critics wondering why this Cowboys win has instigated hope in Dallas.) It isn't even Romo's statistics or the start-to-finish performance. Instead, it's those little things.

It was Romo's pregame speech that Dez Bryant called "outstanding." ("I got chills," Bryant said. "I'll tell you that.") It was Romo's third play from scrimmage, after returning from a two-month layoff (broken collarbone), that sent a similar sensation up the spine of owner Jerry Jones.

"I think the stage was set when that wind was blowing in his face," Jones said. "That rain coming down and he got that ball for his first [throwing down], rolled that thing out of there and pushed that ball out there with his left hand, right in the middle of that monsoon.

"That just gave me a shiver, and I know it inspired our team."

No doubt, this is all very nauseating to the tired-of-the-Cowboys crowd. No doubt, Jones' redundant assertion on Sunday that Romo changes everything will be met with plenty of people pointing out that Dallas will come crashing back to Earth on Thursday. But again, that's not the point here.

The point is, the people who need to still believe are still believing.

How much does it say for Romo's worth in his locker room that his teammates actually think he gives them a chance of winning out? To put that possibility into proper perspective, Troy Aikman only once managed a seven-game winning streak during his 12 NFL seasons and three Super Bowl runs.

Rather than point toward those realities, however, Romo is pointing toward other ones that provide a much more short-term perspective on the success the Cowboys must achieve. And that need for success starts in three days against the red-hot Panthers.

After his on-camera interview, Romo made it clear that, yes, his Cowboys have beaten some tough undefeated teams in the past. And he is right. In fact, he has played two undefeated teams with at least nine wins in the past -- and prevailed in both games. Romo and the Cowboys beat the 9-0 Colts in 2006, and they beat the 13-0 Saints in 2009.

But consider how much the times have changed since Romo's 2006 win against Indy -- when he was making his first home start for the Cowboys.

Before that game, then-head coach Bill Parcells approached Romo and told him that the game was in his hands, that Parcells would be relying heavily on his new quarterback.

"Let's do this!" Romo recalls saying to Parcells. "I'm ready."

So what did the offense do in that game? "We ran it 36 times."

This week, against the Panthers, you'd better believe Dallas will not be running it 36 times. That's because this is absolutely, in every sense of the phrase, Romo's team now. If we didn't have that realization before Sunday's game, Jones certainly made as much clear afterward.

"I think it's Tony," Jones said Sunday, when asked about the difference in Dallas' all-around offensive success. "Yeah. It's Tony. We needed Tony -- and even the threat of Tony."

Romo gave his team hope on Sunday. And after the game, when he brought up past success against undefeated teams, he provided another glimpse into why the Cowboys should maintain that hope for another week. If Dallas wins, he will no doubt fuel more confidence, more hope, more inspiration.

Is it dumb? Is it foolish? Is it blind?

To everyone but the Cowboys, it is probably all of the above.

That, very sufficiently, is the power of Romo: He makes his teammates believe they have a chance. And even his critics must admit, given the incredibly tricky task currently facing the Cowboys, that's practically a miracle in itself.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.

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