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 IRVING, Texas (AP) -This time last year, Tony Romo was the cover boy on plenty of preseason magazines. His love life was gossip-page fodder. And he was hearing his name in the same breath as Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman.
Same as this year, right?
Hardly. Along with the hype were the questions about whether he deserved such accolades, whether this guy who rocketed from nobody to Pro Bowler was a one-year wonder. Heck, even his bosses on the Dallas Cowboys wanted to make sure, withholding a contract extension until they were convinced he was for real.
Romo proved it, all right, setting all sorts of records last season on the way to a 13-3 record, matching the most wins in the team's proud history. Although he wound up losing in the playoffs for a second straight year, Romo secured his spot in the NFL hierarchy, just a notch below the top rung of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Now Romo is preparing for just his second full season as a starter - and his first truly in control.
So, heading into Sunday's opener in Cleveland, he should be primed for bigger, better things.
Shouldn't he?
``I don't know,'' Romo said Wednesday. ``We'll see as the season progresses, I guess. You just have a better understanding of all the things you're trying to do. Things I had to think about are more second nature in some areas.''
There's reason to believe Romo can pick up where he left off from last season. After all, little has changed.
Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Patrick Crayton are his top receiving threats. His entire offensive line would be the same if not for an injury to left guard Kyle Kosier. Marion Barber is now the starting running back, but he got the majority of action last year anyway. Even the offensive coaching staff is mostly intact, including the ever-important jobs of coordinator Jason Garrett and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson.
Coach Wade Phillips said Romo's experience and the consistency around him will pay off in faster, better decisions when his first or second passing option is covered. Put more simply, he has a better feel for what to do and when to do it.
for check-downs to Marion Barber, all those things.''
Romo has always worked on the finer points of his game. That's among the secrets to his success, the ingredient that's carried him from lightly recruited out of high school to undrafted out of Division I-AA to the big time after three and a half seasons on the Cowboys' bench.
His latest batch of tweaks has been kept under wraps because Dallas went bland in the preseason. The arrival of the regular season means he finally gets to see whether all his extra work will pay off.
``That's as exciting a feeling as I'll get ... when you do something you may not have been able to do before or you recognize something quicker than you may have before,'' he said. ``It's exciting to know that you can improve and there's another step to go. Every time that happens, to me, that's the funnest part of sports in general, the ability to improve and be better tomorrow than you are today.''
Romo carries a career quarterback rating of 96.5, which would be second-best in NFL history if he had enough attempts to qualify. Remember, he's made only 24 regular-season starts.
Still, the success he's had has led to comparisons with some of the greatest players in team history, who also are among the best in NFL history.
``Those are kind of ridiculous comparisons,'' he said. ``It's cool just the fact that Troy and Roger will talk to (me).''
He's right. Romo is 0-for-2 as a playoff starter, botching the hold of a late go-ahead field goal on the road as a wild card, then getting upset at home last season, wasting the No. 1 seed. Aikman and Staubach each won multiple Super Bowls.
Thus, he's got a ways to go to join that conversation - even if the Cowboys are being talked up as heavy preseason favorites to represent the NFC in the big game.
``If you're lucky enough to win one or two Super Bowls as a quarterback and let's say hopefully you play 10 years in the league, you've had a pretty successful career, I'm guessing,'' Romo said. ``So you're going to be disappointed for eight or nine of those years. So to live and die all the time on strictly winning the Super Bowl, it's just going to make people go nuts.
``You hope to one day be good enough as a team to win the Super Bowl, but the only thing that we can take care of right now is today. The only thing we can do right now is have a good practice today. Hopefully, that'll help us be a better team tomorrow, be a better team on Sunday, and over the course of 17 weeks or 20 weeks or whatever it is, you hope to be that much better than. Hopefully, you'll be a good enough football team to have a chance.''

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