IRVING, Texas (AP) -Watching from the sideline Sunday, injured Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is bound to have all sorts of things running through his mind.
Seeing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit Texas Stadium is sure to trigger memories of their last visit, on Thanksgiving 2006. In only his fifth career start, Romo threw five touchdown passes, tying a club record and proving to a national audience he was the real deal.
He also began a move toward pop-culture fame, getting to know halftime act Carrie Underwood and impressing another country singer in the stands, Jessica Simpson.
But Romo prides himself on being an in-the-moment sort of guy, so he probably won't dwell on all that, especially not with the way things are going for his club.
is ugly effort last week in St. Louis, but it didn't really matter because the defense continued a run of awful outings. Special teams have been a problem since training camp, their trouble stopping returners now compounded by losing both their main return guys.
Fallout from this teamwide cave-in includes three losses in four games, the lone exception a creaky home victory over winless Cincinnati.
Coach Wade Phillips told his position coaches to start helping out with special teams last week, and this week he's taking a more active role with the defense, which likely will include calling some plays. He'd probably be willing to let owner Jerry Jones - or even Simpson - call some plays if that would snap his club out of the funk that's already produced as many losses as they had all last season, despite having as much talent or more.
``I'm very surprised, very disappointed, pretty much embarrassed at this point,'' said Terrell Owens, who has yet to have a 100-yard game. ``We just haven't played up to our capabilities yet.''
Tampa Bay (5-2) and its staunch defense doesn't seem like a great opportunity to turn things around. But a home game against the Bucs should be easier than what the Cowboys face next: a road game against the reigning Super Bowl champion, division-leading New York Giants.
rojected return Nov. 16. There's no telling what other changes might be in store by then, especially if Jones loses the patience he's shown thus far.
It's enough to make Romo start thinking about Carrie and Jessica instead.
``This is definitely a very important time in the season; everyone understands that when you get to a position, recordwise, where we're at,'' Romo said this week, a bulky wrap on his aching hand. ``Winning a football game this weeks helps out a lot of things.''
In studying the Buccaneers all week, perhaps the Cowboys recognized a model of how a team can stick together when things get tough.
Tampa Bay has lost two narrow games and bounced back with a lopsided win each time. The Bucs have kept winning while plugging in backups at running back, receiver and quarterback. They've also kept their poise while facing the real-life adversity of kicker Matt Bryant's 3-month-old son dying.
``I'm a bit concerned about the number of injuries, but I'm really proud of this team,'' coach Jon Gruden said. ``They play really hard and, at times, if you watch them carefully, they play pretty good.''
nio Bryant might be the lone representative of the club's top four receivers.
The running back rotation is a mystery, too. Carnell Williams had knee surgery 13 months ago and just this week returned to practice; can he be ready to make his season debut? If so, it would be great timing because Warrick Dunn is battling a pinched nerve in his back. Fullback B.J. Askew is trying to get over a hamstring problem.
Then there's the quarterback. Jeff Garcia was benched after losing the opener, but regained the job after Brian Griese got hurt. He's been very good the last two weeks, looking more like the guy who made the Pro Bowl last season.
While the patchwork on offense is admirable, defense makes this team go.
The Bucs have forced the most three-and-outs in the NFL, have given up the lowest percentage of touchdowns once teams get within 20 yards of the end zone, and their 15 takeaways are second in the NFL. They're also among the stingiest in things like points and yards per game. Heck, they've even scored three touchdowns on defense.
``They're flying to the ball, creating a lot of havoc,'' said Johnson, who remembers them doing the same thing in 2002, when he was the starting quarterback on their Super Bowl champion squad. ``They're a lethal team right now, a team to be reckoned with.''
r their only win. They're going to need to straighten that out to stay atop their division because this starts stretches of two straight road games, three of four and five of seven.
``If you have a strong team that's coming in that can enforce their will on you at their home place, then you're a contender,'' defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. ``Then we're starting to talk about down the line.''

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