ARLINGTON, Texas - With 7:57 left in the fourth quarter Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys were 76 yards from the end zone, trailing by 10 after a turnover had handed the Giants a touchdown.
And just to make the situation a little more bleak, their best playmaker, wide receiver Dez Bryant, was in the locker room. In fact, doctors were examining his broken foot.
To Tony Romo, all that meant was that the game was about to begin.
"I feel like the game's just getting started when you get down to the last seven or eight minutes," the Dallas quarterback said after leading his team to two lightning-quick fourth-quarter touchdown drives in the Cowboys' stunning 27-26 victory over the Giants at AT&T Stadium.
"The rest of the game has happened, the big ebb and flow and the emotional stuff that goes through it,'' Romo said. "But every week, both teams have a chance almost all the time. You just have to figure out how to restart and go play the game."
Romo and the Cowboys had that part figured out. After 31/2 quarters of shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers, they reset and became the high-powered offensive machine predicted by many to win the NFC East title.
In those two possessions, the Cowboys ran 12 plays covering 148 yards in 4 minutes, 20 seconds and scored 14 points to turn that 10-point deficit -- which was built courtesy of two interceptions and a fumble -- into a one-point win.
"When we give them points, it's hard to overcome," Romo said. "Everything was . . . not us. But we kind of turned back into what we think we can be."
The turnaround came suddenly. Just seconds before, Romo's third-down pass intended for Devin Street had turned into an interception when Giants safety Brandon Meriweather slammed the ball loose and it wound up in the hand of cornerback Trumaine McBride. Rashad Jennings scored on the next play to put Dallas in a 23-13 hole with 8:01 to go.
"Just keep playing," tight end Jason Witten said of the message. "Our team did that. It was very calm on the sideline . . . Tony's at his best in those situations. He thrives in those moments."
Starting from his own 24 with 7:57 left, Romo hit Witten and Terrance Williams with back-to-back throws that gained a combined 31 yards. He beat blitzes to hit Williams crossing the field and Cole Beasley on the left sideline, where he danced past three defenders to the 1. Witten, Romo's longtime friend and favorite target, then caught a 1-yard touchdown pass with 5:08 left.
"They came after us four or five times," Romo said. "Some of the throws I made were soft but they were soft because they were in cover-zero and were all-out pressuring us . . . You have to think about it and watch tape and put yourself in that situation.
"In that drive, there was a pretty good chance Spags was going to come after us. And the second drive, they decided the first one didn't work, so they obviously went with a different approach."
That different approach -- soft coverage to make the Cowboys throw underneath and use up the clock -- didn't work either.
Taking over after a powerful Giants drive produced only a field goal, the Cowboys began their last gasp at their 28 with 1:34 on the clock and no timeouts. Romo opened with two passes under the coverage to running back/slot receiver Lance Dunbar, who found acres of open space for gains of 24 and 16 yards, putting Dallas at the Giants' 32.
"They didn't want to give up the big play, so I knew the back would be open," Dunbar said. "I was ready -- nobody's open deep, so let's dump it off to the back."
From there, Romo found Witten at the 19, then hit Williams with a strike on the right sideline at the 11 to stop the clock with 13 seconds left.
The final play wasn't so precise. Romo dropped a low snap but quickly reached down, picked it up and fired it to Witten, who pushed his way into the end zone with seven seconds left. Dan Bailey's extra point gave Dallas the improbable victory.
Once again, Romo said, that wild play was the product of inner peace.
"You just have to stay calm in that moment," he said. "You can't just fall on it and protect the football. There isn't that much time left. You have to have poise in those situations when random things happen -- someone misses a block, the ball goes on the ground, whatever it is that comes up.
"You find through the years that if you play long enough, the experiences you've had help you get calm, get back up and trust the guys around you to do their job."