IRVING, Texas (AP) -First, a teary apology by Tony Romo to his teammates after the botched hold that cost the Dallas Cowboys their first playoff victory in 10 years.
Then came the long wait for another chance.
The way Romo has played this season proves the flub didn't haunt him. But even his closest friend on the team admits to having had his doubts.
``That play, all of us were really wondering how he would overcome that,'' All-Pro tight end Jason Witten said.
Romo never wavered in his self-confidence. If anything, he worked even more to get the most out of what happened last January in Seattle.
``It helps motivate you in the offseason to work with a chip on your shoulder. I went out there every day with a purpose,'' Romo said Wednesday. ``Not just because of that, but that is kind of how I have always done it. That just added fuel to the fire.''
Another Pro Bowl regular season later, plus a well-publicized excursion to Mexico this past weekend, Romo is finally getting ready for another playoff game, the top-seeded Cowboys at home Sunday against the New York Giants.
``It really shows his resilience and what kind of character he has,'' linebacker Akin Ayodele said. ``From the time we came in during offseason workouts to minicamps, you could talk to him, hang out with him and you wouldn't have thought that the previous season ended the way it did.''
In the closing minutes of a wild-card game against the Seahawks, the Cowboys tried a 19-yard field goal that would've put them ahead 23-21.
Romo desperately sprinted for the end zone once he picked up the bobbled snap, but was tackled from behind - 2 yards from a touchdown and a yard short of a first down. He then sat on the turf, his legs extended while he grabbed his face mask with both hands and stared down.
After a last-ditch pass dropped incomplete on the final play, Romo sat at his locker with his back to everyone. He apologized to the team and choked up again during the postgame interview.
Teammates never blamed Romo, and instead tried to console him with a common message: The Cowboys wouldn't have been in the playoffs without him.
The also knew the mistake had nothing to do with Romo's play at quarterback. It came trying to handle one of those slick out-of-the-box balls used by kickers while still doing the holding chores he performed before replacing Drew Bledsoe at quarterback.
``The ball slipped out of his hand,'' defensive end Marcus Spears said. ``It didn't really have anything to say about how he would (play) quarterback.''
Cowboys coach Wade Phillips was San Diego's defensive coordinator when he saw the play unfold. He was most impressed by the way Romo handled himself after the game.
``He took all the blame,'' Phillips said. ``And I thought then, `He's the guy who got them down there, he's the quarterback.' I understand he made a mistake as a holder, but I don't think you can just say, `Hey, I can't play quarterback because I wasn't a good holder on one play in my career.' ``
A month later, Romo volunteered to hold on kicks at the Pro Bowl - and hasn't done that again. Not because of anything that happened in Seattle, but as the starting quarterback and the owner of a $68.5 million contract, he's too valuable.
Romo was able to get away from the ugly ending to his season in high style. After the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, he judged the Miss Universe pageant, played in a celebrity golf tournament near Lake Tahoe and was Carrie Underwood's date at the Country Music Awards.
Still, he acknowledged Wednesday it took some time to get over the Seattle flub.
``It always takes you a while. The playoffs are different because of the finality of it all,'' he said. ``It's just a situation where you kind of go through the whole season to get to this point, so you want to win football games.''
Romo did his part to get the Cowboys back into the playoffs, setting team records with 4,211 yards passing and 36 touchdowns. He got off to a strong start, throwing for a career-best 345 yards in the opener with four TD passes and another running - all against the Giants, the team Dallas plays Sunday.
``More than anything, he was able to bounce back from it and obviously have a great season,'' Witten said.
The Cowboys tied a team record with 13 victories, which earned home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and the bye weekend Romo spent lounging at a Mexico resort with Jessica Simpson, along with Witten and other teammates.
Phillips wasn't bothered by the weekend getaway, and Romo scoffed at any notion he's not focused on playing the Giants.
``Last weekend was good. ... I got away from the distractions of everything,'' Romo said. ``I think people don't see things certain ways sometimes, but I know the reality of the situation.''
By next week, there will be a new question for Romo depending on the outcome Sunday: Can the Cowboys get to the Super Bowl? Or, was Romo affected by off-field distractions?
``If I don't perform well,'' he said, ``it has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that the Giants played a better football game.''
And no apologies will be necessary.

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