ARLINGTON, Texas — As Tony Romo stood at the podium Thursday night after the Dallas Cowboys‘ 33-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers, it was hard to tell what was hurting more: his left collarbone or his ego.
The Cowboys’ season took a turn for the worse Thursday when Romo suffered his second left-collarbone injury of the season, but it probably veered off course before Thomas Davis drove Romo’s shoulder into the artificial turf on the final play of the third quarter.
Kuechly’s second interception led to a Panthers field goal.
It was 30-6 by the time Romo got hurt, so a comeback was almost impossible.
Just five days ago, the Cowboys’ locker room was full of hope after their 24-14 win against the Miami Dolphins ended a seven-game losing streak. Their leader, Romo, was back, and things would only get better.
But they wouldn’t.
And now they might be worse.
“There are so many subtle things that come up when you see different things and you just have to get there,” said Romo, who completed 11 of 21 passes for 106 yards before the injury. “I wasn’t quite there yet. It was going to take a little bit of time. You hope you can win games until you get that back, but it’s just disappointing I wasn’t able to do that and played poor today. I really put our team in a hole. That was the difference in the ballgame, really.”
When Romo is at his best, he sees things most quarterbacks can’t.
On Coleman’s interception, he was trying to squeeze a throw to Jason Witten. On Kuechly’s first interception, he was trying to find Terrance Williams on a crossing route, but Kuechly was sitting in the hole. On the third, Romo tried to find Witten down the seam with Kuechly trailing by a step.
The rust Romo showed wasn’t so much physical as it was mental.
The two months he missed with the broken collarbone suffered Sept. 20 cost him most in his “situational thinking.”
“Playing the position, I was not as adept at some of the things that I have been used to doing,” Romo said. “They were slower. I’ve got to look at the mechanics part, the physical [part], but I just feel like my natural instinct, some of the mental aspects, I was slow with.”
It’s easy to blame the quick turnaround for Romo’s woes. He struggled last Thanksgiving as well against the Philadelphia Eagles, when he was intercepted twice. But by all accounts he was OK physically. The two-month break for the collarbone helped his back, twice surgically repaired.
“The greatest thing about the NFL is that it challenges you,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “Every time you break the huddle it’s a challenge. The guys on the other side are really, really good. The coaches on the other side are really, really good. When you haven’t played for stretches of time, sometimes it’s hard to get back in rhythm, particularly at that position.
“Tony’s a really good football player; has been for a long time. I don’t think he was seeing things quite as well as he normally does.”
There is a good chance Romo, 35, will not play again until 2016. X-rays taken during the game were inconclusive, and he will have a CT scan Friday to determine if the collarbone is broken for the third time since 2010.
If it is, a source said, he is done for the season. That seems right, considering he missed eight weeks (seven games) with the first break.
“I would like to think that I am a good enough player to not just give touchdowns to the defense,” Romo said. “When you do that, you put your team in a big hole. Our defense battled out there and gave us chances for stretches for the outcome to be different.
“I didn’t give us a chance, and for however long I’m going to sit and live with that, and that will eat at me.”