IRVING, Texas - With his right hand stuffed inside the pocket of his leather jacket, Tony Romo tried to escape the underbelly of Texas Stadium, get to his car, and just go home. But like how the previous four hours of his day had gone, that proved impossible.
With half a dozen television photographers pursuing him, Romo stopped, turned around and barked, "Here. Here." Then he provided the money shot: his right thumb, tightly bandaged.
The Eagles left Texas last night with an improbable 10-6 win over the Cowboys in part because they forced Romo, who had completed 80 percent of his passes in the first meeting of the teams in Philadelphia, into his worst game of the season. He was inaccurate and ineffective. The thumb, injured in the first half, was an issue, but so, too, was the Eagles' defense.
After the game, Dallas coach Wade Phillips refused to acknowledge that anything had happened to Romo or the thumb on his throwing hand, despite a truckload of evidence to the contrary. After a second-quarter series, Romo sat on the bench as trainers looked at his thumb and backup Brad Johnson warmed up.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said he didn't think Romo "was going to come back in for a while," and Takeo Spikes said it was "kind of like Spygate," with the defensive players trying to see what was happening on the Cowboys' sideline.
But to Phillips, nothing was wrong.
Was Romo hurt?
"I don't think so," Phillips said.
Why, then, was Johnson warming up on the sideline?
"I don't know anything about that," Phillips replied.
Did he consider changing quarterbacks?
"No. I didn't have any idea what [Johnson] was doing, but we wouldn't switch the quarterback," Phillips said.
Maybe he should have, because not five minutes later, Romo walked into the Cowboys' interview room with his thumb wrapped in ice, the entire dressing about the size of a football. As Romo fended off questions about the severity of his injury, a steady drip of water fell onto his right shoe.
"It'll be fine," Romo insisted at least five times. He was unconvincing.
In a game they had to win to maintain the slightest of hopes of reaching the playoffs, the Eagles crushed, harassed and hurried Romo all day. They got solid pressure with a four-man rush, and the defensive backs tied up the Cowboys' wide receivers throughout the game. Romo held on to the ball longer than he had in the previous game against the Eagles because he had nowhere to go.
The only Cowboy to do any damage against the Eagles was Jason Witten, who became the first Dallas tight end to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in a season. Witten had eight catches for 113 yards. The other Cowboys? Five catches, only two by Terrell Owens, who was defended all day by Lito Sheppard.
Not until the second half did a Dallas receiver catch a pass, and for the first time in 18 games, Romo failed to throw a touchdown pass.
With his newest admirer, Jessica Simpson, watching from a box at the 40-yard line wearing a white Romo jersey with a pink No. 9, Romo was 13 of 36 for 214 yards, with zero touchdowns and three interceptions for a passer rating of 22.2. The Eagles sacked Romo four times. His final pass of the day was to Owens, who slipped on the route, clearing the way for Brian Dawkins to step in for the interception.
Afterward, Owens took the high road and promised the Cowboys would bounce back from just their second loss - and first in eight games since losing at home to New England - of the season.
"We can only stop ourselves," Owens said. "I think it was very evident today, if we're not on our game, then these are the results you're going to get. I think everybody knows that. We know the talent, and we know the capabilities of this offense. We just need to regroup and finish strong. . . . There's no doubt in this locker room."
Romo was less convincing. Sometimes speaking in a whisper, he said he thought he hit his thumb on an Eagles defender's helmet. Jim Johnson said he thought Spikes got him; Spikes said he thought it was Omar Gaither.
Regardless, Romo deflected most questions about the injury. At one point, he said, "I'm not a doctor." At another, he said, "I don't think anything's broken."
Romo certainly didn't want to use the injury as an excuse, but it also seemed as if he was more hurt than he let on. Only time will tell. The Cowboys play at Carolina on Saturday night, then finish at home against Washington. Although they clinched a first-round bye yesterday thanks to the Panthers' win over Seattle, they're still gunning for home-field advantage through the playoffs.
"It's all about finishing up the year and going into January and winning football games," Romo said. "It's frustrating right now. It's part of the season. It's going to be an emotional letdown for the team, the organization and the fans right now, but we still have a chance to do what we're trying to do. As frustrating and upset as I am right now, you've got to get back and get ready to go."
With that, Romo left into the Dallas night, his thumb, and his real feelings, protected from view.