IRVING, Texas – Brett Favre couldn't pass a football for most of Thursday night, but he probably passed a torch.
Favre exited the showdown between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys for supremacy in the NFC early Thursday night with a right elbow and left shoulder injury. He was hit so hard on the funny bone of his throwing elbow his forearm swelled progressively and he was relegated to the sideline in what was an eventual 37-27 loss to Dallas at Texas Stadium.
In response, it was Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, a man who grew up in Wisconsin idolizing Favre's gunslinger style, who took center stage. And probably not just for the night.
Romo completed 19 of 30 passes for 309 yards and four touchdowns to lead Dallas to an 11-1 mark and a critical win over Green Bay (10-2) in a likely battle for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. Romo might have had five touchdowns if not for the ham-fisted play of wide receiver Terrell Owens in the fourth quarter. Owens turned a sure touchdown pass into an interception when the ball inexplicably escaped his clutches, bounced high in the air and was grabbed by Green Bay's Al Harris.
Romo's performance helped put Dallas in the playoffs, it also allowed him to wrestle the title as the NFC's best quarterback from Favre. Romo now has 33 touchdowns passes on the season, setting a Cowboys season record in only 12 games. More important, he is playing with a combination of confidence and precision. He tore up the Green Bay secondary with a series of deep passes while also avoiding the type of high-risk plays that have plagued him at times.
"I don't know if he's the next American Idol, but he played really well and answered the bell," Dallas coach Wade Phillips said. "I think a lot of people here had seen him play when people said he might have (his) concentration on this, or his contract or he might have (a) let down because his hero is playing and all of those things and he hadn't done it a bit. I just can't say enough about our quarterback."
Meanwhile, Romo did his usually strong job of deflecting the attention from himself.
"This win doesn't put us in the Super Bowl and a loss here wouldn't have knocked us out of it," he said. "Obviously, does it help our chances? Let's say we had a 50 percent chance of going to the Super Bowl. Maybe it's 52 percent (now) because maybe we get to play a home game against this team again if we see them. But I don't think this does anything else except say: 'You know what? We're a pretty good football team.' "
The Cowboys are at least that right now. When Green Bay came out with a pass-heavy game plan featuring Favre, the Cowboys never panicked. Instead, they put increasingly more pressure on Favre. In the first quarter, he was pressured into an interception by safety Ken Hamlin. Favre threw the ball so poorly that it was unclear who was the intended receiver was.
By the second quarter, cornerback Nathan Jones delivered the knockout blow when Favre made a cardinal mistake of not seeing Jones come free on a blitz. As Jones drove him into the ground, Favre also suffered the shoulder injury. After the game, Favre's right arm was heavily wrapped and he carried it gingerly as he walked in and out of the interview room before heading for an X-ray.
"Anybody who has been hit on the funny bone, imagine hitting it 10 times as hard with a hammer," Favre said. He said he had tingling in his pinky and ring finger of his right hand, followed by numbness. Eventually, his forearm began to swell.
The injury is similar to one Favre suffered in Week 11 last season against New England. Favre was able to play the following week and has 10 days before the Packers play again.
"It's a little more swollen than last time, but this was not directly on the nerve as much," Favre said. Still, he said he expected to start the next game.
Until Thursday, Favre was having one of his best statistical seasons, rekindling the type of performance he had when he was leading Green Bay to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in the 1996 and '97 seasons. But even before the hit by Jones, which led to Favre's second interception, Favre was playing pretty poorly. He completed only five of 14 passed for 56 yards.
Of his final six throws, four were deep passes that were either badly overthrown or thrown into double coverage. That's something Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy had counseled Favre again and again to not do this season, but that the veteran turned to as the Packers tried to exploit Dallas' suspect secondary.
Of course, there was some discussion after the game about whether Aaron Rodgers may end Favre's streak of 269 consecutive starts, including the playoffs. Rodgers performed admirably, completing 18 of 26 passes for 201 yards and his first career touchdown pass. He also led the Packers to three scores overall, making a game out of what looked to be a blowout when Dallas went up 27-10.
But even as Rodgers was making it interesting, Romo was in control. He hit one laser throw after another, including a sweet 26-yard score to tight end Anthony Fasano in the second quarter. Romo put the throw right over a defensive back, but didn't put enough loft on the throw to allow a safety behind Fasano to close on the play.
It was the kind of throw Favre might have made once upon a time. While it's unfair to say that Romo has the kind of cannon arm Favre had in his glory years, Romo isn't far behind.
More important, Romo is ahead when it comes to the most important category: The Cowboys are in control of the NFC.