IRVING (CBSMiami/AP) — The Miami Dolphins are entering a favorable portion of their schedule but will be facing a Dallas Cowboys team that’s getting a major boost this week.
Tony Romo is eligible to play again for Dallas.
Not that the star quarterback is the only reason the Cowboys lost all seven games he missed with a broken left collarbone, jeopardizing the playoff hopes for the defending NFC East champions heading into Sunday’s visit to Miami (4-5).
“If we feel like just because Tony is back everything is good, that’s the wrong approach,” coach Jason Garrett said Monday, a day after a 10-6 loss to Tampa Bay extended the team’s longest losing streak since the 1-15 debacle of 1989.
“We have to get better in all three areas. We have to coach better, we have to play better.”
Dallas (2-7) has found creative ways to lose, All-Pro receiver Dez Bryant has gone on a profanity-filled tirade at reporters in the locker room and polarizing defensive end Greg Hardy just can’t seem to stay out of the news.
The latest: A report that Hardy was late for meetings before practice one day last week, prompting a vague non-denial from Garrett.
“Suffice it to say that we have standards here with the Cowboys that if a player were to miss something or be late for something, we address it in house and we address it the right way,” the coach said.
Bryant, in his third game back after missing five with a broken right foot, had one of the critical breakdowns against Tampa Bay with a third-down drop that gave the Bucs another chance.
When it appeared Dallas had stopped the drive and won the game by recovering Jameis Winston’s fumble at the goal line, safety Jeff Heath’s defensive holding penalty wiped out the play. Winston scored the winner on the next snap.
Add that to a pair of touchdowns allowed on the first drive of overtime and a decisive kickoff return for a score in the fourth quarter, and the Cowboys are developing a bad habit of finding ways to lose.
“I don’t know that that’s the issue with our team,” Garrett said. “But what you have to do is find ways to win games and we’ve done that in the past. We were a really, really good fourth-quarter team last year.”
Dallas was good late with Romo in the opener, getting two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Jason Witten, including one with 7 seconds remaining in a 27-26 victory over the New York Giants.
The Cowboys were good in the fourth without Romo a week later, when Brandon Weeden threw a clinching 42-yarder to Terrance Williams after Romo’s injury in a 20-10 win over Philadelphia.
They’ve led or been tied in the fourth quarter in six of the seven games since then, and lost them all. And backups Weeden and Matt Cassel haven’t been consistent enough to keep the offense moving. Not that Romo will automatically fix that, either.
“I know he’s excited and it’s been a tough seven weeks, and it’s not just him being out,” Witten said. “There’s a lot of things that we haven’t done to allow us to win.”
Garrett stopped short of saying Romo would play against the Dolphins, and wouldn’t declare that the broken bone has fully healed.
But his answer could be interpreted as a green light for the 35-year-old quarterback who’s had broken ribs, two broken collarbones and three back injuries. This is his 10th season as the starter.
“We’re going to let him practice,” Garrett said, noting that Romo will have light work on Wednesday, just as before the injury. “And if he practices well, he’s going to play in the game. And we anticipate him practicing well. So we’re excited about that opportunity.”
Even optimistic owner Jerry Jones, who gave Romo the franchise’s first $100 million contract two years ago, gradually altered his view of Romo’s return as the losses mounted without him.
“We had an opportunity (Sunday) and we’ve had opportunities to win without Romo and didn’t take advantage of them,” Jones said. “And that’s a flaw.”
Since the division is flawed — the other three teams have five losses apiece — the Cowboys still have faint hope. The last of it will disappear with a loss to the Dolphins.
“Unlike anything I’ve been a part of in 13 years and to be able to be in this situation and still be in the hunt,” Witten said. “We have to get it corrected and go win one game.”
NOTES: Garrett said LB Sean Lee passed the concussion protocol and was expected to practice Wednesday. … LB Keith Smith was waived after being activated from the practice squad against Tampa Bay because of concerns with depth at the position.
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