IRVING, Texas (AP) – Tony Romo and Jason Witten are the stalwarts in the Dallas offense, and will be surrounded by runners, receivers and blockers making their playoff debuts against Detroit.
It’s hard to say this is the best chance for a Super Bowl run for the quarterback and tight end that joined the Cowboys together 11 years ago. They were the top seed in the NFC seven years ago.
Thanks to DeMarco Murray, though, this is the closest thing the Cowboys have had to Emmitt Smith since the NFL’s all-time rushing leader helped carry the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles in four years in the 1990s.
And that could mean good things for Romo and Witten, who have piled up plenty of stats but really only care about the loneliest number on their resumes – one playoff win.
“We’re making things tough on defenses,” Romo said. “We’re upset when we don’t score on a drive. Ultimately that’s where you want to get as an offensive unit.”
The Cowboys (12-4) ended a four-year playoff drought by winning the NFC East and will face the Lions (11-5) in a wild-card game Sunday.
Besides Murray leading the NFL with 1,845 yards rushing, Dez Bryant broke Terrell Owens’ franchise record from that standout 2007 season with 16 touchdowns receiving.
All those things happened behind a young offensive line that had left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin selected Friday to The Associated Press All-Pro team. Martin was the first rookie All-Pro for the Cowboys since Calvin Hill in 1969. Center Travis Frederick made the Pro Bowl along with Smith, Martin, Romo, Murray and Bryant.
Romo led the NFL with a franchise-record passer rating of 113.2, and the explanation for his efficiency starts with Murray, who broke records by Hall of Famers in Smith and Jim Brown.
“That’s kind of what we hung our hat on all year,” Witten said. “Everything’s because we’ve been able to run the ball. With a really good group up front, we have to be able to capitalize.”
There’s the key word for Romo and Witten – capitalize. It’s the fourth time they’ve been to the playoffs together, starting with Romo’s heartbreaking flub of the hold on a field goal that could have beaten Seattle in a wild-card game during the 2006 season.
They went right back to the postseason a year later with a 13-3 record, then lost to the New York Giants in the divisional round after a bye.
Dallas won its first playoff game since 1996 by beating Philadelphia five years ago, then got trounced by Romo’s boyhood idol, Brett Favre, and Minnesota a week later.
Witten actually has one more playoff loss than Romo’s 1-3 mark. The Cowboys lost a wild-card game his rookie year, when the undrafted Romo was just trying to secure a spot on the roster.
“I think obviously the older you get, you want the young guys to understand that it doesn’t come around every year and you want to take advantage when you have that opportunity,” said the 34-year-old Romo, who is coming off back surgery late in the 2013 season and had another back injury this year. “You have to be the best version of yourself and lay it on the line.”
For Romo, that means trying to shake the tag of the guy who’s ahead of Super Bowl winners Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman in most of the franchise passing categories, but is running out of time to match their championship pedigrees.
“I don’t know how you could have any more appreciation, and I say that in a positive way, for what he is as a quarterback without actually playing in a Super Bowl,” said owner Jerry Jones, who gave Romo the first $100 million contract in franchise history almost two years ago. “Our 2009 team, our 2007 team, we missed big-time opportunities there with Tony Romo.”
And Jason Witten, too.
NOTES: DT Tyrone Crawford didn’t practice Friday because he was sick, and was listed as questionable for the playoff game. … RT Doug Free (ankle) and LB Anthony Hitchens (ankle) missed practice all week. Free, who missed the last two games of the regular season, is doubtful. Hitchens is questionable.