Tony Romo still talks about wishing he had been on the field instead of at home following back surgery when the Cowboys lost a playoffs-or-bust finale to Philadelphia last season.
Eleven months and yet another back injury later, the Dallas quarterback will be out there today against Mark Sanchez when these NFC East rivals play on Thanksgiving for the first time in 25 years with the division lead on the line.
No postseason fates will be sealed this time.
Instead, a pair of 8-3 teams in good playoff position at the moment will play the first of two games against each other just 18 days apart.
“I don’t think you’re going to decide the division right here,” Romo said. “But we also understand the importance of it.”
Romo will see how his back responds to the first quick turnaround since surgery for a herniated disk last December, followed by two small fractures in his back sustained last month on a sack against Washington.
The Cowboys will kick off about 90 hours after Romo rallied them past the New York Giants, 31-28, with a late touchdown pass to Dez Bryant.
The 34-year-old Romo has 22 touchdowns and three interceptions since throwing three interceptions in the first half of the opener against San Francisco. He’s had a quarterback rating of at least 135 in three of the past four games.
“He doesn’t look like he has any back issues,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said.
For Sanchez, the question is more about rust than rest. After missing all of last season with a shoulder injury, he will make his fourth start since Nick Foles went down with a broken collarbone. Sanchez has 985 yards passing and five touchdowns with four interceptions in three starts. In his four games, he’s already matched Romo’s interception total of six.
“The one thing with Mark that I think everybody forgets is he missed an entire year last year, and he’s only played 31⁄2 games for us so far this year,” Kelly said. “There’s still a growing process for him within our system.”
Here is something to consider in Sanchez’s second career start against Dallas. He beat the Cowboys when he was with the New York Jets three years ago.
The signature play for Dallas against New York was Romo having more than six seconds to throw without scrambling twice on the winning drive, including the 13-yard
score to Bryant with 1:01 remaining.
“It’s a huge challenge because you have to know not only what the original route was that your receivers are running, but what they’re going to do after Tony bides time for himself,” Kelly said.
NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray will try for his 11th 100-yard game of the season for the Cowboys. He has a good chance to replace Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy as the league rushing champ.
Murray has 1,354 yards, while McCoy is fourth at 859 after a slow start.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: