IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo learned from Troy Aikman that it's not always "lollipops and chocolates and fun times" being the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.
These days, Romo's chats with former QBs amount to therapy while he endures talk that he has gone from an undisciplined turnover machine to a conservative handoff fiend who misses receivers when he does throw. Or talk that he didn't know it was fourth down before the final end-zone incompletion during Sunday's 17-10 loss at Denver.
Tony Romo, QB
Passer Rating: 79.4
Passing Yards: 990
Or three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady second-guessing Romo's frequent passes in the direction of Champ Bailey, the Broncos' Pro Bowl cornerback, last weekend.
Romo said Thursday that those chats help since the quarterbacks tell him their time was no bed of roses, either.
"There's a lot of hard work and effort and a lot of people beating you down," Romo said while surrounded by cameras and tape recorders at his locker. "You have to have a stronger belief in yourself than the disbelief of others."
Heading to Kansas City to play the winless Chiefs on Sunday, the Cowboys are 2-2 when their legion of critics figured they would have to be 3-1 or 4-0 to have a chance to end a franchise-long 13-year stretch without a playoff victory.
Romo was at the focal point of both losses, his three interceptions leading to three touchdowns for New York in the Giants' 33-31 victory and his fumble jump-starting the Broncos when they trailed 10-0 in the second quarter.
Woodson: Looking for leaders
When I look at the Cowboys, I see two issues: Who are the playmakers, and who are the leaders?
The one playmaker they did have (Terrell Owens) is now in Buffalo. So who are the playmakers? At receiver, there are none. I don't care what anyone says, and people can argue for Roy Williams. But it isn't going to be true, for the fact he hasn't done it in the past and won't do it in the future.
And who is the leader in Dallas? If you show me a team that doesn't have leaders, you're showing me a team that can't win. Who do you go to? Who can keep people under control? Who has that calming, or even the rah-rah voice, on the sideline? There are none in Dallas. Until they find a leader, a person they can turn to, they'll never win.
-- Rod Woodson "Last week doesn't indicate what kind of football team this is," Romo said. "It doesn't make us waver in our belief of what we can accomplish this season. We feel very strongly going forward. Now we've got to go out and do it."
Dallas won its opener at Tampa Bay thanks to several long passes from Romo, but a 21-7 victory over the Carolina Panthers featured only one offensive touchdown and a lot more success running the ball than throwing it. Suddenly everyone wanted to know whether the Cowboys were transforming Romo into the leader of a grind-it-out offense.
Now everyone wants to know where Romo is mentally after another pedestrian passing day that included several bad throws to open receivers.
"Tony's fine," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "He's going to do well because he works so hard at what he does. He's a talented guy that cares. I think he'll do better and better."
At the very least, Phillips, the Cowboys and their quarterback insist Romo can count to four. Video from a local TV station caught Romo holding up three fingers and talking to officials after he threw incomplete on third and fourth down from the Denver 2-yard line in the final seconds.
Talk radio lit up with speculation that Romo didn't know it was fourth down, and the chatter was loud enough for the team to issue a statement explaining that the quarterback saw a down marker with a "3" and believed the referees might have made a mistake. Phillips and Romo basically told the same story the next two days.
"That's kind of ridiculous," Phillips said. "Somebody saw him talking to (officials) and just went off on some ludicrous statement that Tony didn't know what was going on or something. It's amazing what happens."
Williams wonders what happened
Roy Williams is nursing sore ribs and some sore feelings about his on-the-field connection with Tony Romo, saying "this is not what I envisioned by no means." More ... On his radio show, Brady said he found it amazing that the Cowboys kept throwing at Bailey, who ruined a third-quarter scoring chance with an interception and broke up both of Romo's final two passes in the end zone.
"I can't imagine you go into a game thinking, 'Oh, let's really go after this guy and see if he can make the plays,'" said Brady, who gave up a 100-yard interception return to Bailey in a playoff loss at Denver four seasons ago.
Romo said the chatter wasn't affecting him. Leonard Davis, one of his offensive linemen, agreed.
"I don't think anything's wrong with him," Davis said. "People are going to talk. Everybody's got their opinion. Nobody really cares about anybody's opinion because their opinion is not the reality. I don't think him or anyone else cares about what anybody else thinks."
Notes: Cowboys C Andre Gurode, who injured his right knee last weekend, has returned to practice, but WR Roy Williams remains sidelined by a rib injury. Phillips didn't rule out Williams playing against the Chiefs. ... RB Felix Jones (knee) likely will miss his second consecutive game, and Phillips said doctors probably won't clear S Gerald Sensabaugh (thumb) to play this week.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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Dallas Cowboys fucking suck