Tension Still High?

What a week it has been for the reeling-and-on-the-verge-of-a-meltdown Cowboys.

With quarterback Tony Romo missing the last two games -- both losses -- with a broken finger and not expected back until Nov. 16, the Cowboys were at a cross road.

They had lost three of four in addition to two straight games. Actually, they had lost six of their last 11 games dating back to last year.

It got to the point that coach Wade Phillips, who guided to the Cowboys to a 13-3 mark last year, was being asked if his job was on the line. Owner Jerry Jones gave him the dreaded vote of confidence, saying he would not be removed before the end of the season.

Still, the tension was thick for the Cowboys all week.

The fact was that the Cowboys, once considered a preseason Super Bowl favorite, faced a must-win game against the Buccaneers to keep their playoff hopes alive.

It wasn't pretty nor was it a frustration unleasher, but the Cowboys (5-3) got what they needed in a 13-9 victory, prompting Jones to do something he says he has never done before.

After opening the week talking about Phillips' job security, he ended it by giving Phillips the game ball.

"I'm so proud for him," Jones said. "I know the players are too. When you have tough times and in the NFL that is losses, it gives you a way as a coach to establish how you can turn it around, how you can make a difference. Wade did his job today."

Phillips did his job by taking a more active role in the defense.

Hired by the Cowboys largely because of his defensive expertise, Phillips allowed coordinator Brian Stewart to run things for much of the last two years while he played the role of overseer.

This week, he got more involved, even though he didn't yank play-calling duties away from Stewart. The Cowboys defense had its best game of the season, holding the Buccaneers to no touchdowns and 260 yards of total offense, including just 48 yards rushing. It didn't matter that the Cowboys mustered just 172 total net yards of offense, marking the fewest yards en route to a win in franchise history. They committed no turnovers and got the victory.

"It was an important game for us," Phillips said. "I think our players definitely stepped up. I think they were frustrated we haven't won the last two weeks."

Jones said it was an important win for the Cowboys if they hoped to keep their playoff hopes and Super Bowl hopes alive.

A loss, according to the Cowboys, was certain doom as it would have put them in position to be under .500 heading into the bye following next week's game against the Giants -- a certain possibility with Romo still out.

Now the Cowboys know they will have a winning record heading into the bye no matter what happens next week. They also are confident they will be in position to make a final run once they get their injured players back.

Now the Cowboys can carry some confidence into the Giants, while having the solace of knowing all their goals remain in front of them when Romo and the rest of the injured players like cornerback Terence Newman return after the bye.

"We didn't want to be out of contention by the time we got Tony and other players back," Jones said. "That made this win important."

Said receiver Terrell Owens: "We felt this was a must-win game for us. Losing wasn't an option."

TRENDING: The Dallas defense had two sacks in the game against the Buccaneers, extending the club's streak of consecutive games with a sack to 28. The last game the defense did not come up with a sack was at the N.Y. Giants on Dec. 3, 2006.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It shows a lot about this team. It does a lot for the character of this team and what we are made of. We've had a lot of big wins here and of course a few tough losses. But I think this team has a lot of character and it showed with the win. I think what's big is that we're sticking to our plan and bouncing back. That's a good team we just played so to get that win and with the starting quarterback out and with nothing pretty about that win speaks a lot (to) get that win." -- TE Jason Witten.

MONDAY LEFTOVERS: QB Brad Johnson's touchdown pass against the Buccaneers allowed him to break a tie with Troy Aikman (165) for sole possession of 51st on the NFL's all-time passing touchdowns list.

--P Sam Paulescu had a career-long 60-yard punt in the game. He also had his first career special teams tackle.

--LB Carlos Polk forced a fumble on a third-quarter kickoff -- his first forced fumble as a Cowboy.

--LB DeMarcus Ware was held without a sack for the first time since a Dec. 9, 2007 game at Detroit. His sack streak was stopped at 10 games, to remain tied with Simon Fletcher for the league record since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. Ware also holds the second-longest sack streak in club history behind Harvey Martin's 11 (1976-77).

--WR Roy Williams made his first start as a Cowboy. The team opened in a two-receiver set. He then recorded his first catch as a Cowboy in the second quarter. Williams then added his first touchdown catch as a Cowboy in the second quarter, giving Dallas a 10-6 lead at halftime.

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