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IRVING, Texas (AP) — The first time Tony Romo started a Thanksgiving game for the Dallas Cowboys “Romo-mania” was so frenzied that a group of fans strung together the letters in his name and hung it alongside the Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium.
Security guards made the fans take it down before kickoff, which sure looked foolish considering what Romo did next: five touchdown passes, tying a club record, all in just the first three quarters. Club owner Jerry Jones was so giddy afterward that he joked about firing those security guards.
Five years later, Romo has yet to live up to the hope and hype of those heady days. But another wave of “Romo-mania” may not be far away.
Romo goes into a Thanksgiving game against Miami looking on one of the best rolls of his career. He’s gone three straight games without an interception, and Dallas has won them all, pushing the Cowboys into a tie for first place in the NFC East.
The timing is great for him as he’s made a tradition of shining on this holiday. Romo is 4-0 on Thanksgivings, having thrown 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. (He missed last year’s game because of a broken collarbone.)
Miami presents an intriguing challenge.
The Dolphins are only 3-7, but they’ve won three straight and haven’t allowed a touchdown in any of those games. Plus, their roster, coaching staff and front office are filled with guys who worked with Romo in Dallas, perhaps giving them a degree of insight that goes beyond the usual scouting reports.
It starts at the top, with Miami general manager Jeff Ireland having been on the staff when the Cowboys signed Romo after he went undrafted. Dolphins coach Tony Sparano was Dallas’ offensive line coach and play-caller when Romo replaced Drew Bledsoe as the starter in 2006 — including that five-TD performance against Tampa Bay on Thanksgiving — and he remained on the staff in 2007, when current Cowboys coach Jason Garrett took over as offensive coordinator.
“First of all is he’s an outstanding player,” Sparano said. “He’s a guy that from Day 1 down there has been able to get that team moving. ... I think he’s got a good relationship with a lot of his players there. And those guys obviously trust his leadership.”
At his best, Romo can be a Brett Favre-like gunslinger, turning seemingly doomed plays into highlight-reel touchdowns. He did so several times Sunday against Washington by relying on a nifty spin move to his left.
“I always thought Tony always had eyes in the back of his head, which was good for a line coach,” Sparano said.
“But he’s got a good sense about him. He extends plays. ... That stuff can hurt (opponents).”
That stuff also has hurt the Cowboys.
Dallas has three narrow losses this season and Romo’s turnovers were to blame for the first two. Garrett’s reluctance to unleash him with a narrow lead at New England paved the way for the Patriots’ late comeback.
The low point came in Week 4, when Romo threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, plus a third interception, while giving away a 24-point lead at home against Detroit. It was the biggest blown lead in franchise history.
Now look at what Romo has done since then.
In six games, he has two interceptions. That matches the cleanest stretch of his career. Only this one is better because he’s also thrown more touchdowns, 12. That includes three in each of the last two games, and he’s done while top receiver Miles Austin has been out with a hamstring injury.
“Sometimes when guys focus on taking care of the football they go into a shell, they don’t make any plays. So they’re not making any mistakes, but they’re really not doing anything either,” said Garrett, a former quarterback. “I think we’ve all seen Tony’s been able to strike that balance. ... He’s made a lot of significant plays in the last few weeks that have allowed us to win ballgames.”
The rapid rise of rookie running back DeMarco Murray has helped balance the offense, giving defenses more of a challenge. Romo also has recovered from a broken rib and torn lung suffered in Week 2.
Just in time for the holidays.