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Cowboys hold off Favre-less Packers to clinch playoff berth

IRVING, Texas (AP) -- Tony Romo took a knee, sealing a playoff-clinching, record-setting victory over the team he grew up rooting for and the quarterback he's obviously patterned himself after. So when it was time for hugs and handshakes, the kid from Wisconsin went looking for Brett Favre.

He had to settle for Aaron Rodgers.

Favre was already in the locker room getting treated for a banged-up right elbow and a separated left shoulder. Besides, the graying icon already had seen enough from Romo and the Dallas Cowboys.

For all his denials about Favre's influence on him, Romo sure played a lot like a young No. 4 Thursday night -- full of moxie and joy, but needing a bit of a high-wire act to send the Cowboys past the Green Bay Packers 37-27 and into the lead for homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

"When I got out to the field, [I realized] it was pretty neat, the atmosphere," Romo said. "I looked around and was like, 'This is why you want to play sports.' You want to play in games like this. Your competitive juices get flowing and you want to prove what kind of player you are."

Romo led Dallas to two field goals, then three touchdowns on his first five drives. He finished with four TD passes, giving the Cowboys (11-1) their sixth straight win and guaranteeing a spot in the playoffs.

They also have a leg up on avoiding a trip to Lambeau Field should these teams meet again in the NFC championship.

"We've got ourselves in the driver's seat," Dallas' Terrell Owens said. "Now we've got to stay there."

The Packers (10-2) ended a six-game winning streak and are now essentially two games behind Dallas in the chase for the conference's top spot with only four games left.

The bigger concern is Favre's health.

Favre was hurt on a hit by cornerback Nate Jones in the second quarter. His run of 249 consecutive starts -- a record that's about six seasons longer than the next-best by a quarterback -- might be in jeopardy, although he has 10 days to heal before the Packers play again, Dec. 9 at home against Oakland.

"I had a similar injury last year," Favre said. "I lost feeling in my fingers and I still have some tingling. But I think I'll be fine."

Rodgers, who spent the week pretending he was Romo in Green Bay practices, provided the kind of rally Favre usually specializes in, even throwing the first touchdown pass of his three-year career. But he's no Brett Favre, so this comeback came up short.

Romo was 19-of-30 for 309 yards. He's up to 33 TD passes, smashing the club season record. He tied another club mark by throwing a touchdown in his 16th straight game.

Owens caught seven passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. He tied a team record with his 14th TD catch of the season and tied another mark with a TD catch in seven straight games. Patrick Crayton caught two of the touchdowns and Anthony Fasano the other.

Dallas also extended the best start in franchise history. With four games left, the Cowboys already have their most wins in a season since going 12-4 in 1995, their last Super Bowl season, and they're two wins from matching the franchise record.

"It's pretty amazing to break any record with all the glory this team has had," first-year coach Wade Phillips said.

The Packers are still in great shape for at least the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye because their next three opponents have losing records. And the idea of starting Rodgers next week may no longer be as dreadful to fans who have wondered if he was a wasted draft pick. In the most extended action of his career, he was 18-of-26 for 201 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers.

"I thought he played great," Favre said. "He gave us a chance to win."

Favre was 5-of-14 for 56 yards with two interceptions, one that looked like a punt and another on the play he was injured. At least two other heaves could have been picked off. The Packers' only touchdown during his action came on a 62-yard run by Ryan Grant.

It's a shame most of the country missed seeing this game because it sure was worthy of a bigger audience than the NFL Network can provide.

There were historic teams and star players, dramatic plays and bizarre ones -- like T.O. juggling a potential back-breaking touchdown, letting it turn into an interception that could have let Green Bay take the lead. And, of course, there was the Romo-Favre storyline, which got rolling when they smiled and laughed through a chat on the field about 1½ hours before kickoff.

What did they say?

"Exchanging recipes and stuff," Romo said. "Guy talk. I don't know. We just talked about hunting or something. I told him NFL Network was going to have a heart attack if I didn't come over and say hi. They were running out of film waiting for it."

Even the pregame coin toss was cool as Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman were honorary captains, joining Cowboys players dressed in throwback uniforms that ironically hark back to the days when Vince Lombardi and the Packers dominated Tom Landry's early Dallas teams.

Green Bay got a field goal on its first drive, but wouldn't lead again. The Cowboys were up 6-3, then turned it into 27-10 in the span of just eight offensive snaps.

Then Favre left and Dallas' intensity went, too. The lead frittered to 27-24 and after Al Harris caught the interception caused by Owens, the Packers were driving for a go-ahead touchdown. But Green Bay's bid ended quickly, then Romo drove right back for a touchdown that made it 34-24.

Rodgers got a field goal, then the Packers needed a stop from their defense. But with Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and cornerback Charles Woodson inactive with injuries, they couldn't do it. Dallas got a clock-draining drive and field goal for a 10-point lead with 1:03 left -- and with Favre nowhere in sight, having already headed to the locker room before the 2-minute warning.

Game notes
Favre already considered Texas Stadium a miserable place, half-joking earlier this week that he was hoping "it would be gone before I got back there." He's 0-9 here. ... Dallas leads the regular-season series 11-10. ... Cowboys WR Miles Austin didn't have a catch, but he drew pass interference penalties of 42 and 40 yards. ... Look for the shaggy-haired Rodgers to get a haircut soon. He vowed not to trim it until he threw a touchdown.

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