IRVING, Texas (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys are on the verge of making the return of quarterback Tony Romo a moot point — if they haven’t already.
The team’s longest losing streak since 1989 — all six games that Romo has missed with a broken left collarbone — has the defending NFC East champions facing this sobering stat: Only one team has made the playoffs in NFL history after starting 2-6.
“I think you always want to address that, the perspective of where we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going and what’s out there,” coach Jason Garrett said Monday, a day after Philadelphia beat Dallas 33-27 on Jordan Matthews’ 41-yard touchdown catch in overtime.
“But I don’t think you want to spend too much time on that.”
The Cowboys have one more game before Romo is eligible to return — the first of consecutive games in Florida at Tampa Bay on Sunday. Dallas visits Miami next week, when Romo can come back.
Two of the losses have been on opposing touchdowns to start overtime (New Orleans and the Eagles), another thanks to a go-ahead kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter (New York Giants) and a fourth on a late drive to a field goal (Seattle).
Even in an 11-point loss to Atlanta, Dallas had a two-touchdown lead three times. The only blowout was something of a given with Romo and receiver Dez Bryant missing — a 30-6 loss to undefeated New England.
Matt Cassel had his best game in three starts against Philadelphia, but the bottom line is simple: He and Brandon Weeden are both 0-3 trying to fill in for Romo.
“We have to address why it hasn’t been good enough,” said Garrett, whose longest losing streak in five years as coach was two games before the current skid. “All this stuff about how we play is important. But then you have to do those things at the end of the ballgame to win the game.”
Dallas, which won the NFC East at 12-4 last year, is fortunate no team has separated from the pack, even though the division-leading Giants moved two losses ahead of the Cowboys with a victory at the Buccaneers on Sunday.
Getting Romo back with a 3-6 record beats the alternative in the Cowboys’ pursuit of consecutive playoff berths for the first time since 2006-07, Romo’s first two years as the starter.
“We’re right there,” safety Barry Church said. “We’re a play here, a play there away from switching the whole thing around. I feel like we can.”
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones bears responsibility for believing Weeden could be the answer if Romo went down. The trade for Cassel after Romo’s injury was the first sign Dallas wasn’t sure, after an offseason of no movement. Three straight games with a spotty offense forced the move to Cassel.
“I didn’t expect to lose six games with our roster,” Jones said. “I didn’t expect to lose Romo after the second game. A lot of people lose players, and a lot of people win games. We’re just very disappointed for everybody concerned that we haven’t won more games.”
If the Cowboys need a source of inspiration, maybe it’s the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals. They won their last six games in the 14-game era for an 8-6 finish before a 17-10 playoff loss to the Baltimore Colts in the first year of the merger.
Or maybe they just need a team meeting.
“We’ve definitely got to get together and figure out ways to stop this madness,” defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. “What’s this, six in a row now? That’s too much. It’s unacceptable for me, unacceptable for the rest of the guys.”
It’s a reality, too.