'Boys Enter Critical Stretch

Give Tony Romo credit. On a team many believed would be a Super Bowl contender but is now fighting for its playoff life in mid-November, Romo is doing his best to provide veteran leadership to locker room full of high-priced egos and personalities.

After missing three games with a broken right pinkie, Romo is set to return this Sunday at Washington. And he's certainly not 100 percent. He still feels pain when taking a direct snap and will wear a small splint on his right hand.

But there was no chance he was going to miss a vital road game against a divisional opponent. Beat the Redskins, and the Cowboys pick up a game on a rival and close in on the contenders for the two NFC Wild Card berths.

"I think this team has got a great second-half run in it," Romo said. "Hopefully we'll be able to show that this week."

That's the type of leadership the often rudderless Cowboys have appeared to lack.

The major problem is that even if the Cowboys "show that this week," they still have a tough road to plow to get to the postseason. After Washington comes two easily winnable home games against San Francisco and Seattle.

That would put Dallas at 8-4 and in good position before a brutal stretch run that starts with a trip to Pittsburgh followed by home dates against the Giants and Baltimore before closing the regular season at Philadelphia in a game that could determine the playoff fate of both teams.

Go 2-2 during that stretch to finish 10-6, and the Cowboys might be sitting home come January. As big a win at Washington would be, Dallas has other concerns - especially in the NFC South where 7-2 Carolina is followed closely by 6-3 Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

"I've done a lot of studying, and a lot of thinking about the game and trying to gain an understanding of what it is we may need to do a little bit differently or what we may need to continue to do or do better," Romo said. "I feel very confident and excited going forward about things that we may have changed around, improved upon."

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