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Make no mistake: Tony Romo not having to do it all by himself is big reason Cowboys are riding high

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo calls a play

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo calls a play during a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Nov. 10, 2013) Credit: Getty

There seemed to be that moment in just about every big game he played. He'd put up remarkable stats and make exhilarating plays, but when it came time for the contest to be decided, he'd have what everyone in the league knew as a Tony Romo Mistake.

A big interception. An untimely sack. A poor decision.

Something that would cost the Cowboys the game and cause television cameras to pan to a grumbling Jerry Jones in his owner's box.

This year, though, the Dallas quarterback has avoided such practically predictable pitfalls. Those Tony Romo Mistakes that opponents could count on? They've dried up, and at 5-1, the Cowboys are the hottest team in the league.

"We've all known Tony Romo to get out of the pocket and be very dangerous out of the pocket and throw one up and hope," Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "It's not hope anymore. They are connecting and he is very comfortable in this offense . . . He's using his Tony Romo Magic, so to speak, when he gets in trouble."

What's changed?

Something that has nothing to do with Romo himself.

"They haven't run the ball as well in the past as they are running it right now," Fewell said. "I think that takes a lot of pressure off of him."

Romo no longer shoulders the responsibility of making the offense go. Now that belongs to DeMarco Murray, the offensive line and the NFL's leading rushing attack.

The Cowboys are asking Romo to do less. And because of that, he's been able to give them more.

"When you run the football, that is the quarterback's best friend," Cowboys coach (and former NFL quarterback) Jason Garrett said. "Typically, you get more favorable looks to throw the ball when you are a good running team. Typically, the pass protection is better . . . I think the more you can spread the burden around, the more you can attack defenses different ways, the more balanced you can be across your football team, the better it is for everybody."

It's clearly been better for Romo.

"In previous years, it would seem like he was trying really hard to make a play or make things happen," Giants defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. "Right now, he just looks comfortable. It looks like everything is coming more natural."

This used to be a quarterback's game. The kind in which Romo or Eli Manning would be the deciding factor, would have a chance to rack up huge numbers and probably would be trading touchdown tosses in the fourth quarter to determine a winner.

The Cowboys and the Giants: In seven of their last 10 games against each other, the winning team has scored at least 30 points. In four of the last 10, the losing team has scored at least 30. In recent years, it's been about passing, passing and more passing. Scoring and scoring some more.

On Sunday, though, the old NFC East rivals will meet at AT&T Stadium with the same old quarterbacks . . . but brand-new personalities. Gone are the chuck-it philosophies that made the two passers Pro Bowlers (and one of them a two-time Super Bowl MVP). No longer are the two teams willing to trade haymakers and risk interceptions.

Both of them have adjusted. Manning no longer is throwing the ball down the field. He's focusing on short, crisp West Coast-style passes and has the highest completion percentage of his career (throwing only one interception in the last four games, a pick that should have been a touchdown, by the way).

Romo, meanwhile, is happily handing off to Murray. He's still on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards this season. He's just not trying to do it all in one game, as it often seemed in past seasons.

"A lot of the times, the sticks are in his favor when he has to pass the ball," Jenkins said. "Third-and-short, second-and-short. Quarterbacks love those downs. Second-and-short you get a free down, throw the ball. You're not back there feeling like you have to make a play."

Romo may be making it look easier, but he insists it's not.

"Whenever you play quarterback in the National Football League, it's always going to be difficult," he said. "As soon as you let up, thinking that something now is easier, you're setting yourself up for a recipe to fail."

That said, even he appreciates the change a potent running game has provided.

"This year is different," Romo said. "We've been able to be a little more picky and choosy about the times you have to maybe create as much and do things to help your football team. I think our football team has taken another approach, all of us."

Fewell said he can tell just how comfortable Romo is with the new run-heavy system by the way he sometimes is seen chewing out his receivers.

"They are not in the spots they are supposed to be on the coaches' tape," Fewell said. "So it seems like with that comfort level, that he knows where everybody is supposed to be. He knows what everybody is supposed to do and he is using that to his advantage."

In 2014, Romo isn't the one making the mistakes anymore. He's the one correcting them.

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