IRVING, Texas (AP) -- Clutching the game ball in one hand, Tony
Romo reached over with his other and gave Peyton Manning a
consolatory pat on the helmet.
"I wished him good luck. He did the same," Romo said. "He's
like, 'You're a good player.' So that's meaningful to me."
In the first start for both quarterbacks at Texas Stadium, it
was Romo -- not Manning, the six-time Pro Bowler -- who was efficient
throughout and at his best late, carrying the Dallas Cowboys to a
21-14 victory to spoil the Indianapolis Colts' bid for a perfect
"This is big. We've been trying to get ourselves a little
momentum for a while," Romo said. "This is a game you have to say
you had to have. You know as well as I do that we're running out of
games here. We needed this win badly."
Dallas (6-4) is two games over .500 for the first time all
season. With four of their remaining six games at home and with the
rest of their division ailing, the Cowboys are in prime position to
make a run at the division title.
It's a stunning turnaround considering how badly they looked in
their last home game, a lopsided loss to the New York Giants. But a
halftime quarterback change that game, from Drew Bledsoe to Romo,
has transformed the club. The Cowboys have won two in a row and
three of four with Romo starting.
And give the defense bonus points for playing so well in their
first game since Greg Ellis, their captain and MVP thus far, was
lost to an injury.
"It was a great team win," said Terrell Owens, who had four
catches for 70 yards. "We're getting better each week. That's what
we strive to do."
Coming off a performance that earned him the NFC offensive
player of the week award, Romo was 19-of-23 for 226 yards with an
interception; he was 10-of-11 in the second half.
Romo was at his best on the final three drives, taking Dallas 68
yards to tie it, 80 yards to go ahead, and making enough first
downs to burn the final 2:59 without letting Indianapolis get
"Thank goodness the ball didn't get back in Peyton Manning's
hands," coach Bill Parcells said.
A week after becoming the first team to start 9-0 in consecutive
seasons, Indianapolis fell shy in its bid to match last year's 13-0
run, much less the perfect season by the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
The Colts had escaped close calls all season -- like two
one-point wins over bad teams at home and five other wins by less
than a touchdown -- but couldn't overcome four turnovers, their most
in 79 games, dating to Nov. 25, 2001.
"We've been playing with fire -- and the fire caught us," Colts
coach Tony Dungy said.
After Manning's incompletions into the end zone on third and
fourth downs from the 8, the Colts never got the ball back.
Marion Barber III, already with two fourth-quarter TD runs,
picked up 20 yards on the first play with a facemask penalty adding
15 more. Romo then rolled to his right and hit tight end Anthony
Fasano for another 22 yards.
On third-and-7 after the Colts used their last timeout, Romo hit
Terry Glenn on a quick slant to get just enough for the first down
at the two-minute warning. Romo ran out the clock with three
kneel-downs, then took the ball and found Manning near midfield.
The victory is just as big for Dallas as the loss is
disappointing for Indianapolis.
To team owner Jerry Jones, it was like "a couple of wins in the
'90s that showed our team that they could do it," referring to
clubs that won three Super Bowls.
When Parcells made the quarterback switch last month, Jones was
so disappointed that he lowered his expectations for this season.
He was no longer convinced this team could be "special."
Romo's emergence and a victory over Manning have revved up the
owner's expectations again.
"I expected it to be a mountain to climb," Jones said. "How
he's been able to play, what he's been able to do. To step in there
tonight, get off to a rough start and come back around and play
like he played, those are the kinds of things that are really
Romo lost a fumble on a sack by Dwight Freeney on the opening
drive, then threw an interception soon after. He didn't get the
Dallas offense inside the Indianapolis 20 until the final 30
seconds of the third quarter.
However, once he did, the Cowboys grabbed control for good.
Barber scored from the 5 to tie it early in the fourth, capping
a 68-yard drive. Then Romo followed with the 80-yard series, again
capped by a Barber TD, that put Dallas ahead for the first time.
Manning threw two interceptions after having thrown only three
all year. He lost his first fumble of the season and Marvin
Harrison lost his first since 2004.
Still, the loss could be somewhat of a relief. There won't be
any more questions about chasing the hallowed mark of the 1972
Miami Dolphins or their own 13-0 start last season. The focus now
returns to mundane topics like winning the division and becoming
the AFC's top seed, all of which seems within reach considering the
Colts' remaining foes are a combined 25-34.
"It's not a positive when you lose a game," said Manning, who
also had a season-high 19 incompletions and was sacked twice on one
drive after going down only 10 times all season coming in. "We're
going to dissect the film and find things we can build on. It's
been awhile since we lost a regular season game. But that doesn't
make this less painful."
Manning went 20-of-39 for 254 yards and was off from the start,
failing to get any points out of Romo's early turnovers.
After a putting together a long drive just before halftime for a
7-0 lead, Manning had a chance to build on it at the start of the
second half. Instead, his second pass was tipped and intercepted by
linebacker Kevin Burnett, who returned it 39 yards for the tying
"I told the team [this win] ought to tell them something about
what they're capable of doing," said Parcells, who in his 19 years
in the NFL had never ended an opponent's perfect start this deep
into a season. "If we keep playing like this, we have a chance to
Former Indianapolis kicker Mike Vanderjagt missed from 43
and 46 yards in the first half. Fans were so upset they booed a
commercial he appeared in that was shown on the stadium monitors.
... Vanderjagt's last two-miss game was Nov. 17, 2002, when he and
the Colts beat the Cowboys. ... Dallas safety Roy Williams had his
second interception of Manning, impressive for someone with 16 in
his career. ... Rocky Boiman, cut by the Cowboys in training camp,
was one of the Colts' team captains. Bledsoe came out alone for the
coin toss since Ellis is the defensive captain.