Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo played in a game Saturday for the first time since undergoing back surgery last December, a 237-day gap since that heroic victory against the Washington Redskins in Game 15.
He sat out the season finale for the surgery, and the first preseason game prior to a 37-30 preseason loss tp the Baltimore Ravens at AT&T Stadium that didn't really matter.
How Romo fared mattered very much as the Cowboys had him all but bubble-wrapped for much of training camp.
He participated in half the practices, never practicing three straight days and throwing with a pitch count. He was held out of the preseason opener against the Chargers last week.
But when it came time to play against the Ravens, Romo was ready.
He participated in 16 snaps on two series of work, completing four of five passes for 81 yards and a 31-yard touchdown pass to Dez Bryant. His only incompletion was a drop by tight end James Hanna.
Most important, Romo looked comfortable and at ease. There were no limitations on his throwing or his movement because of the back.
"I thought he looked comfortable," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "I thought he looked like himself and moved around in the pocket. He made some good throws that looked like he saw the field well. He felt the pocket really well and looked comfortable moving the team."
Romo threw short. He threw long on the touchdown to Bryant. He avoided the pass rush and moved up in the pocket to deliver the ball. Romo said the back was fine.
"It felt good. It's just part of going through it," Romo said. "It is continuing to get stronger. When you feel good, you play, and you keep going. You just play and don't think about it. You get hit or you may not, but you don't think about it."
Romo said he didn't think about the back before, during or after the game. While the Cowboys have been smart and cautious with him in camp so far, he said the back is healthy and not a concern.
"When you play, if you're thinking about those things, you're doing your team a disservice," Romo said. "I've got a lot of other things I've got to do to make sure we're running the offense smoothly. That's what needs to be in your brain. If you're not healthy, you shouldn't play."
Romo, who had a passer rating of 158, did have one bad play. He fumbled a handoff with running back DeMarco Murray that was scooped up by defensive end Courtney Upshaw, who returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.
However, his overall play was deemed a huge success by the Cowboys.
"Ballin. I don't know what else to say," Bryant said of Romo's play. "He came out and did what he had to do. He drove us down, got in the end zone and put up seven (points) and got out of the game. We all know what Tony can do. He is a huge competitor. He likes to win and he wants to win, so there's no need for him to really be out here in the preseason because we need him in the long run. What he showed tonight was great and we all know what he can do."
Romo will play a little more in next Saturday's third preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. But the Cowboys plan is to have him ready for the Sept. 7 preseason opener against the 49ers.
"Well, I'm convinced that he can do what he does," owner Jerry Jones said. "He'll want to certainly get some snaps in Miami. We'll see some of those guys as we go forward these next two games. We need to. When I say we need to, that's just an opportunity for us to get ready for San Francisco."
--The play of undrafted rookie quarterback Dustin Vaughn in the first two preseason games has the Cowboys considering whether to keep three quarterbacks on the final roster. The Cowboys usually keep two quarterbacks. Tony Romo is the starter and Brandon Weeden is entrenched as the backup. But the Cowboys like the promise Vaughn has shown as a developmental quarterback for the future. He has played so well that he might not make it to the practice squad and could get signed by another team. But what would they sacrifice at other positions if they keep a third quarterback on the roster?
"Keeping three is ideal -- there's always roster challenges to keep three," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. "You want guys to run down on kickoffs and play on the punt team, and you want to have an extra guy on your offensive line or your defensive line or a playmaker here or there, so you always have these challenges and you want to develop players at other positions."
--Linebacker Rolando McClain played so well Saturday against the Ravens that he will start getting first-team reps, Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Monday.
It was McClain's first game action since 2012 after sitting out all of last season. He joined the Cowboys just before the start of training camp and needed time to get in football shape. Against Baltimore, he led the Cowboys with six tackles and had a forced fumble.
"Rolando did a good job," Garrett said. "He played more snaps for us. He did some really good things. He's showing he's a physical player. He'll run to the ball. There was a play on our sideline where he chased it down and knocked the ball out. We've seen a lot of that in practice. He has to play, too. He has to play in the system. There is some responsibility there for that Mike linebacker to communicate, and I think his communication was good at times. Other times it was not what we need it to be, particularly when you're playing with a younger group.
"You've got to make sure everyone gets lined up. Some good things with him as well, but definitely some things we need to address. But he's certainly warranting an opportunity to compete for one of those spots in there."
McClain's emergence could mean bad news for weak-side linebacker Bruce Carter, who was a disappointment last year and has been less inspiring in camp. The Cowboys will look at McClain at middle linebacker and move middle linebacker Justin Durant to weak-side linebacker in place of Carter with Kyle Wilber remaining on the strong side.
"We started to do that a couple of weeks ago and then Rolando was out of practice a couple of days, so we will do that in practice this week," Garrett said. "At the end of the day, we need to find our three best linebackers and our best combination of those guys to start for us in base, and then there are some roles in nickel as well. If guys demonstrate that they're a better cover guy than base linebacker, maybe they'll get their opportunities there. So we'll continue to work the different looks and the different combinations and see what looks best."
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Backup defensive tackle between Ken Bishop, Davon Coloman and Zach Minter.
Coleman, an undrafted free agent, has impressed throughout camp and has taken advantage of injuries to Henry Melton and Terrell McClain. He got the start on Saturday against the Ravens. Bishop, a seventh-round pick, has been solid throughout camp, showing the versatility to play the nose and the three-technique position. Minter added his name to the mix with a flourish against the Ravens. He signed with the Cowboys off the street on Thursday, had one practice and played on Saturday. All he did was register four tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit and a forced fumble in one quarter of action.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--DT Henry Melton could see some time in the preseason game against the Dolphins Saturday night-- if he gets back on the practice field this week. Melton sat out the first preseason game for precautionary reasons and missed the second one because of a groin strain. The Cowboys will remain careful with Melton. If he isn't ready, they will hold him out of the Dolphins game so he will be ready for the season opener. But he will try to return to practice this week and hopefully get some snaps against the Dolphins.
--CB Brandon Carr is expected to make his preseason debut against the Miami Dolphins Saturday night. He missed the first two weeks of camp because of the death of his mother, forcing him to miss the preseason opener. He sat out game two as he was still getting his body in condition after missing so much time. But he will put on pads this week for the first time and get himself ready to play in the third preseason game against the Dolphins.
--LB DaVonte Holloman suffered a neck injury against the Ravens. Coach Jason Garrett said the team is continuing to evaluate his status, which is a huge concern because Holloman missed seven games last year with a neck injury.
--CB Morris Claiborne is still slowed by a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Ravens game, making it likely he will miss his third straight preseason game against the Dolphins on Saturday. Claiborne could return late this week, but he is touch and go.
--DT Terrell McClain, who has missed the majority of camp with an ankle injury, could get back on the field by the end of the week. Coach Jason Garrett has upgraded his status to day to day. He will likely miss his third straight preseason game.
--CB Korey Lindsey was waived from reserve/injured with an injury settlement by the Cowboys Monday (Aug. 18).
--LB Rolando McClain led the Cowboys with 11 tackles against the Ravens. It was his first football action since 2012 when he was cut by the Raiders. He didn't play in 2013 after retiring twice with the Ravens. He sat out the preseason opener because of tightness in his quad. "I liked what 55 did out there," owner Jerry Jones said of McClain. "He got some good snaps, more snaps than I thought he might get and he did real well. We knew and felt that he was good in coverage and he showed tonight that he drops back good, got a good feel for coverage out there."
--RB Ryan Williams had five carries for 36 yards, including a tackle-breaking and bull-dozing 27-yard run that set up a nice 3-yard touchdown run. It was a performance that has him in the thick of the battle at running back for the third spot with Joseph Randle. It could also make the Cowboys consider keeping four running backs with DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Randle and Williams. Williams, a former second-round pick of the Cardinals in 2011 who sat out last season because of injury issues, got the Cowboys attention.
"Well, those two cuts he made on the goal line to score were pretty impressive," owner Jerry Jones said of Williams. "The first cut and even the subtle Emmitt Smith cut going over that goal line. Yeah, he's a good running back. Of course, Joseph Randle has had a great camp. It's really pushed Randle to have Williams behind him, but I'm glad to see Williams have that good night."
--SS Ahmad Dixon was suspended for the preseason game against the Ravens because he was late to a walkthrough on Friday. "It was a coach's decision," coach Jason Garrett said of Dixon not playing against the Ravens. "He didn't practice all week because of the concussion he was dealing with from last week's game. We had intentions of playing him. But you have to handle your business. You have to be someone we can trust. Hopefully he will learn from this experience."
--WR Dez Bryant had three catches for 59 yards and a touchdown against the Ravens. Bryant said it was just a tease as he is planning for a big year. "I think Dez played just like he's been practicing, almost consistently throughout training camp," owner Jerry Jones said. "He's made those kinds of plays. He's a force out there. I'm sure we'll see he was really focused in the game and had a lot of energy. Dez has continued to work on saving his energy early so it'll be there late, and I think he's doing that."
--TE Gavin Escobar suffered a right shoulder injury against the Ravens. It came in the third quarter of Saturday's 37-30 loss to the Ravens after laying out for a 37-yard completion. Coach Jason Garrett doesn't think it was too serious. But it is being checked out. The Cowboys will update his status on Monday.
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