Dallas quarterback Tony Romo celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass… (Mike Stone / Reuters Photo )
Reporting from Irving, Texas -- Heading into Sunday's game at New England, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has adopted an us-versus-them mentality.
Not Cowboys vs. Patriots.
Cowboys believers vs. nonbelievers.
"This team is going to win a Super Bowl at some point," Romo said, sitting at his locker after a practice this week. "It's going to be exciting when that time comes. And when we look back, we'll know who was on what side of the fence during those tough moments."
Romo wasn't directing that at the media. He understands his mistakes will be heavily scrutinized, particularly in his marquee role for such a high-profile franchise. He was talking about Cowboys great Deion Sanders, now an NFL Network analyst, who in the wake of an epic collapse against Detroit said Romo — who had three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) in that 34-30 loss — is "not that guy that can take you where you want to go."
Said Romo this week: "Deion is welcome to his own opinion about stuff. Deion is Deion. He is what he is. We're going to go out here and we're going to play good football."
The Cowboys have done a far better job of protecting Romo — he's been sacked once in each of his past three games — than the quarterback has done protecting a lead.
In the opener, the Cowboys frittered away a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter with two Romo turnovers. According to STATS LLC, Dallas had been 246-0-1 when leading by at least two touchdowns in the final period.
Then came dramatic victories over San Francisco and Washington, with Romo directing comebacks in both. He also quieted critics by playing through the pain of cracked ribs and a punctured lung.
That set the stage for the Detroit loss in which the Cowboys blew a 24-point third-quarter lead. At 2-2, the Cowboys are in third place in the NFC East behind 3-1 Washington and the 3-2 New York Giants.
Despite the pivotal turnovers, Romo has given no indication he plans to be more conservative with his approach.
"I just think you need to be aggressive," he said. "As a quarterback in the National Football League you have to be aggressive in certain situations, and other ones you have to understand what the score is and what is going on.
"If you don't pull the trigger, you're going to be average — and no one wants to be average. And we're not going to be around here. We're going to continue to get better and grow from our mistakes."
There is certainly opportunity to score against the Patriots. They have the league's worst-ranked defense, allowing 433.0 yards per game. Much of that comes from teams getting drawn into shootouts with New England's Tom Brady-led offense. But the Patriots aren't getting to opposing quarterbacks, either; they're tied for 24th with eight sacks — 10 fewer than the league-leading Giants.
"No play is ever really dead with Romo," Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty said. "Even when guys get to him, he's able to escape. I think the biggest thing is, once he escapes, he's not always looking to just take off and run. A lot of times when he gets outside, he's still trying to throw the ball down the field.
"He has the ability to, no matter what side he's on — left or right — turn his shoulders and get the ball vertical. So in the secondary, we have to stay on our guys and stay ready no matter what he does back there."
Romo, who says his ribs and torso feel much better after a week off, said the Cowboys will be a better team because of the Detroit loss — much as that stung.
"It toughens you up, makes you stronger," he said. "You understand mentally why you did something, and you go forward. It doesn't mean you're never going to throw another interception, or no one is ever going to do something wrong. That happens. But it's going to minimize it because it's part of your psyche, your brain.
"We'll be better off for it."