Dallas (8-5) at Atlanta (7-6)

Cloudy Currently: Atlanta, GA
Temp: 61° F
  • Game info: 8:00 pm EST Sat Dec 16, 2006
  • TV: NFL
Preview | Box Score | Recap

After being nearly flawless since taking over the starting job, quarterback Tony Romo looked like a backup in the Dallas Cowboys’ last game.

He’ll try to rebound from a poor performance and keep the Cowboys (8-5) pointed toward the playoffs when they visit the banged-up Atlanta Falcons (7-6) on Saturday.

Dallas appeared to be sailing toward a division title and a first-round bye under the direction of Romo, who sat on the bench for three-plus years before taking over for Drew Bledsoe in Week 7. Romo won five of his first six starts, threw 10 touchdowns to only four interceptions and jumped to the top of the NFL in passer rating.

He looked ordinary, however, in a 42-17 loss to New Orleans on Sunday that snapped the Cowboys’ four-game winning streak and cut the Cowboys’ lead in the NFC East to one game. Romo was just 16-for-33 for 249 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and his passer rating dropped to 96.6—fourth in the league.

“You just think that it’s a wake-up call that you have to be on top of your game every game in the NFL,” Romo said. “As soon as you slip a little, anybody can come out and take it to you. We learned that, obviously. Hopefully that’ll spur us on to not allow that to happen again.”

With some help, Dallas can clinch at least a wild-card spot this weekend. If the Cowboys beat Atlanta and the New York Jets beat or tie Minnesota, then either New Orleans would have to beat or tie Washington or Pittsburgh would have to beat or tie Carolina to put Dallas into the playoffs.

“From here on, it’s almost like it’s a playoff game every week,” Romo said. “We need to be ready to go this week and we will.”

The Cowboys might also want to make sure their defense is ready to go against the Falcons. Even though Romo had a bad game, Dallas didn’t stand much of a chance with the way the Saints rolled over the defense. New Orleans had 536 yards of total offense, the most ever against the Cowboys at Texas Stadium, and the Saints scored the second-most points against a Bill Parcells-coached Dallas team.

While the Cowboys defense is struggling, Dallas will be facing an Atlanta club that may not have its top two tailbacks after last week’s 17-6 victory over Tampa Bay.

Warrick Dunn (calf injury) and Jerious Norwood (knee) were hurt four plays apart against the Buccaneers, casting doubt as to whether they’ll be ready to play Saturday. Dunn, who leads the team with 997 yards, and Norwood (550) are listed as questionable.

If necessary, fullback Justin Griffith could slide over to running back again. He had 12 carries for 57 yards and a touchdown against the Buccaneers, but said he thinks either Dunn or Norwood will be able to play.

“I’m anticipating that they’ll probably be ready to go Saturday night,” Griffith said. “Both of them are warriors.”

If Dallas beats Atlanta, it will finish 5-3 on the road. That would be the team’s first winning record away from home since 1995, when it went 6-2 and won the Super Bowl for the third time in four years.

The Falcons have won consecutive games for the first time since October to rescue their playoff hopes.

Atlanta, trailing New Orleans by two games in the NFC South, would probably see its playoff chances ended with another loss. The Falcons have the same record as wild-card leaders New York and Philadelphia, but own a worse conference record than both teams and lost 27-14 to the Giants in Week 6. The Falcons visit Philadelphia in the season finale.

“It gives momentum, a bit of confidence going into Saturday’s game against Dallas,” Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick said of Sunday’s victory. “We get that win, we get ourselves back into playoff contention, and we’ll take it from there.”

Vick, who could assume more of a running role this week with the tailback injuries, needs 35 yards to pass Bobby Douglass for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season. Vick had only five yards on three carries against Tampa Bay, leaving him with 934 on the season. Douglass had 968 rushing yards for Chicago in 1972.

Falcons kicker Morten Andersen could become the NFL’s all-time leading scorer Sunday. He has 2,433 points, one shy of Gary Anderson’s league record. Andersen, who came out of retirement Sept. 19, has kicked for five teams in 24 seasons.

Atlanta beat Dallas 27-13 in Parcells’ first game as Cowboys coach on Sept. 7, 2003, the last meeting between the teams. The Falcons also won 20-13 at home Nov. 11, 2001. Before that, Dallas had won five of the previous six matchups.

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Week 12