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Maturing Romo wasn't built in a day

Wade Phillips has heard a lot about what the last four games have done to the old perception of Tony Romo as a late-season failure.

Wade Phillips has heard a lot about what the last four games have done to the old perception of Tony Romo as a late-season failure.

Fading away are memories of those defining moments of Romo's botching the hold on what would have been the winning field goal against Seattle in the 2007 playoffs and his three-turnover implosion last year, with a postseason spot on the line, in a 44-6 destruction by the Eagles.

Instead, this December, Romo has thrown for 309.8 yards per game, with seven touchdowns against one interception, to exorcise the demons.

But Phillips doesn't buy the whole renaissance script.

"I get tired of all that," said Phillips, head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. "Somebody goes through this stat or that stat. Tony's played well. We've won a whole lot of games in the last three years. They keep bringing up, 'He didn't do this or didn't do that.' He's playing well. He's been playing well. He's a great quarterback."

Whether Phillips admits it or not, Romo, 29, could be playing better than at any time in his career as the Eagles head to Dallas for Sunday's regular-season finale. He has just three games with two or more turnovers this season. And in three of his last five games, Romo has thrown for 300-plus yards.

"His focus and his leadership and just every aspect as a quarterback and as a leader - I think words can't really describe how he's playing," tight end Jason Witten said after Sunday's victory over Washington. "Obviously, not having turnovers is a huge step for us. But bigger than that, I mean even the runs, the draws, checking plays at the line, and his communication, it's the best I've ever seen him."

Romo has thrown for more than 4,000 yards and 24 touchdowns in leading the Cowboys back to the postseason. His 12 turnovers (eight interceptions and four lost fumbles) are way down from previous years. Romo turned the ball over 21 times in each of the last two seasons.

Moreover, he had a streak of 167 passes without an interception this season, one that was finally snapped in the 17-0 triumph over the Redskins.

Entering this month, Romo had been 5-9 as a starter after Dec. 1, with 14 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. But he wouldn't say that anything specific had changed this time around.

"Labels are what other people put on you," Romo said yesterday. "You change everything by winning and losing. All we try to do is win football games and improve."

In the first meeting against the Eagles this season, in Week 9, Romo showed composure under pressure. He was sacked four times, but avoided making the mistakes that had characterized his career. Romo threw for 307 yards in the 20-16 win.

The motivation after last season's disastrous finale against the Eagles was important heading into the off-season, Romo said. The transformation of the offense began then.

Eagles head coach Andy Reid said Romo had always had good pocket presence because of his elusiveness. But a smarter Romo has added another dimension.

"His straight drop-back game, I think, has improved," Reid said. "He has a better feel for what the defenses are doing, he's more patient, and he has good players around him."

While Romo has been sacked a career high of 32 times this season (eight more than in any other full season), it could be another sign of his maturity. Combined with the career low in interceptions, it's a sign that Romo is making better decisions in the pocket and not trying to force something when it isn't there.

"It's all part of maturing a little bit - growing up, getting experience in different situations, and proving to yourself you can do it," Romo said. "The next time, it comes a little bit easier."

Phillips is most impressed with the way Romo has balanced playing smartly and aggressively. And it has resulted in a happier December.

"His focus was to try and cut down on interceptions as much as we could and still have the big plays," Phillips said. "You can cut out the interceptions, but if you don't have any big plays, you're not moving the ball. He's been able to do both this year."