The party line in Dallas has been that once Tony Romo comes back, everything will be OK.
Romo will be back Sunday night when the Cowboys go to Washington. But everything might not be quite as OK as Jerry Jones and his team think.
The Cowboys' quarterback began practicing this week, a month after breaking the pinkie on his throwing hand. And while he reported some pain, he is expected to be ready to try to help a team that lost two of three games without him.
It's a big game for both teams, each chasing the Giants (8-1) in the NFC East or at least trying to solidify a wild-card playoff spot. For the Cowboys, the preseason favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, the line is that it's a fresh start following a bye week that allowed Romo and some other injured starters to get healthy.
``You've got to get on a run in this league,'' coach Wade Phillips says of his team, whose four losses in nine games are one more than the Cowboys had in the 2007 regular season.
ar, we started out on a run, then didn't keep it going. But we've got a chance to come back and win some games.''
The Cowboys now say they hope to emulate the Giants, who lost to them twice last season, then won in Dallas in the playoffs and went on to win the Super Bowl.
The Redskins (6-3) are two games behind New York and also coming off a bye. Their 26-24 win in Dallas on Sept. 28 was the first loss by the Cowboys after a 3-0 start.
Washington could be without Clinton Portis, the league's second-leading rusher. He has a sprained knee and is ``50-50'' according to coach Jim Zorn. His backup, Ladell Betts, might be back, or it could be newly signed Shaun Alexander, the 2005 NFL MVP with Seattle, and Rock Cartwright, primarily a special teamer.
The Redskins will, however, have DeAngelo Hall, the high-priced cornerback dropped by the Raiders after eight games. Where he fits in a rotation that already includes Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers and Fred Smoot is yet to be determined. But it hasn't stopped Hall from exchanging lost-distance barbs with Terrell Owens, the kind of woofing from T.O. that is symptomatic of Dallas' problem - one that Washington hasn't had until now.
Dallas has a tough closing schedule: all three division opponents plus Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
``Three or four weeks from now, there will be big changes,'' Phillips said. ``So, we'll see where we are.''
weekend began Thursday with the New York Jets at New England in a game between teams tied for the AFC East lead.
In other games, Denver is at Atlanta; Oakland at Miami; Chicago at Green Bay; Baltimore at the New York Giants; Houston at Indianapolis; Detroit at Carolina; New Orleans at Kansas City; Philadelphia at Cincinnati; Minnesota at Tampa Bay; Arizona at Seattle; St. Louis at San Francisco; San Diego at Pittsburgh; and Tennessee at Jacksonville.
Cleveland is at Buffalo on Monday night.
Baltimore (6-3) at New York Giants (8-1)
The league's best rushing offense against the league's best run defense - the Giants being the former and the Ravens the latter.
``The only way to stop somebody like that is to run into them full speed,'' Ray Lewis says of New York's 264-pound Brandon Jacobs, who is fourth in the league in rushing and averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
``The name of football is hit or be hit. So the bottom line, I don't care how big his size is. Football is football. And when you strap on your chin strap I don't care how big you are, deal with whoever has the ball and let life take care of itself. You know what I'm saying?''
Jacobs does.
``I wouldn't want him to think any other way,'' he says.
ng all three to open a two-game lead in an NFC East that was supposed to be the most competitive division in the NFL.
The surprising Ravens have moved into a tie with Pittsburgh for first in the AFC North. Rookie QB Joe Flacco hasn't thrown an interception in his last four games.

San Diego (4-5) at Pittsburgh (6-3)
The Steelers fell into a tie with Baltimore by losing at home to Indianapolis last week when Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, two that were extremely costly. Roethlisberger took full responsibility, declining to blame an injured shoulder.
``The good thing is it's not the end of the season. We'll come back,'' Roethlisberger says.
The Chargers fired defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell during their bye week, then struggled to eke out a 20-19 win over Kansas City at home last Sunday. San Diego has been having trouble running - 25th in the NFL at 95.5 yards per game and 22nd with a 3.9 per carry average despite the presence of LaDainian Tomlinson, now healthy after starting the season with a sore toe.

Tennessee (9-0) at Jacksonville (4-5)
Normally, this would be a tough spot for the NFL's only unbeaten team.
The Titans may get a little more respect because of last week's win in Chicago, when the Bears brought eight men up to stuff the run and got burned by Kerry Collins, who was supposed to be simply a ``game manager.''

Houston (3-6) at Indianapolis (5-4)
The Colts have beaten two good teams, the Patriots and Steelers, to secure a solid spot in the AFC wild-card chase, although catching the Titans in the AFC South seems too big a task. Peyton Manning did his usual in bringing Indy back from a 17-7 deficit in Pittsburgh last week, and the defensive star was 266-pound rookie defensive tackle Eric Foster, the kind of quick, undersized defender Tony Dungy has always prized.
The Texans should have beaten Indy at home, but blew a 27-10 lead in the last half of the fourth quarter thanks to three turnovers by Sage Rosenfels, who once again will replace the injured Matt Schaub at quarterback.

Chicago (5-4) at Green Bay (4-5)
The Bears are hoping Kyle Orton can come back from his sprained ankle after Rex Grossman played QB last week against the Titans. But they have other problems - their usually ferocious pass rush has produced just five sacks in the last four games.
ckers were planning for the future as much as for this year when they went with Rodgers and then signed him to a long-term deal.

Minnesota (5-4) at Tampa Bay (6-3)
Adrian Peterson now leads the NFL in rushing and his 192 yards were the primary reason the Vikings edged the Packers last week.
But it's unlikely Peterson will get 192 against Tampa Bay, which is allowing just 99 per game. The Bucs also have back a new/old offensive weapon: RB Carnell ``Cadillac'' Williams, the 2005 Offensive Rookie of the Year who has missed the last 13 months with a knee injury.

Denver (5-4) at Atlanta (6-3)
The Falcons, one of three teams in the NFC South at 6-3 or better, would probably love to be in the AFC West, where the struggling Broncos lead despite a leaky defense and a series of injuries to running backs. The usually potent running game now depends on Tatum Bell, back for his second stint with Denver; fullback Peyton Hillis; recently promoted P.J. Pope; and just-signed Alex Haynes.
Compare that to the Falcons, who have Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood as complementary backs helping the increasingly dangerous passing combination of rookie Matt Ryan and Roddy White.

Detroit (0-9) at Carolina (7-2)
ains the starter.
The Panthers could be making a run at home-field advantage in the NFC. They trail the Giants by just a game; New York has a tough finishing schedule; and Carolina gets a shot at the Giants on Dec. 21 in the Meadowlands.

Philadelphia (5-4) at Cincinnati (1-8)
The Bengals finally won against Jacksonville two weeks ago and then had a bye. So are they refreshed or have they lost momentum? Probably doesn't matter.
Every game is a must win for the Eagles, who are three games behind in the NFC East after losing to the Giants last week. They are 0-3 against NFC East rivals, so that means they have tiebreaker problems in a crowded wild-card race with a half-dozen other teams.

Cleveland (3-6) at Buffalo (5-4) (Monday night)
``I know I am not a quitter,'' coach Romeo Crennel said after Jamal Lewis and other Browns suggested the team quit against Denver last week in Brady Quinn's debut as Browns quarterback.
The banged-up Bills have now lost four of five, including three straight AFC East games, which puts them in poor position in a cramped division.

Arizona (6-3) at Seattle (2-7)
ts with seven games to go. That's important: The Cardinals are 4-0 at home, 2-3 on the road, with the away wins over St. Louis and San Francisco, two of their woeful division rivals.
Matt Hasselbeck will probably be back at quarterback for Seattle after missing five games with a back problem that caused weakening in his right knee.

Oakland (2-7) at Miami (5-4)
Imagine if Al Davis, who has been friendly with Bill Parcells since coaching him in a 1963 college all-star game, had hired Parcells to run his franchise. The way the Tuna has resurrected the Dolphins, the Raiders might be contenders in the weak AFC West.
The Dolphins, with Parcells protege Tony Sparano coaching, are contending in the much more competitive East, benefiting from the signing of Chad Pennington, who was cut loose by the Jets when they traded for Brett Favre.

New Orleans (4-5) at Kansas City (1-8)
Drew Brees has 2,985 yards and may be on course to break Dan Marino's single-season record of 5.084 yards passing. But the Saints' record shows how deceptive yards can be - when you are behind, you throw a lot. But not, perhaps, to Jeremy Shockey, with whom Brees got into a sideline tiff last week during the loss in Atlanta.
tra point would have sent the game to overtime. The good news: Tyler Thigpen may be a legitimate young QB.

St. Louis (2-7) at San Francisco (2-7)
Mike Singletary got within 2 1/2 yards of his first coaching win in Arizona last Monday night and then he and offensive coordinator Mike Martz complained the officials spotted the ball wrong on the final play of the game, a run attempt at a winning TD that got stuffed.
The Rams, energized for a while after Jim Haslett took over from Scott Linehan, are back to playing awful ball, which probably means the Singletary energy boost that was evident in Arizona will prevail here.

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