IRVING, Texas - The massive wrap on Tony Romo's right thumb looked more like a club than a bandage, and it was impossible to ignore.
But the Dallas Cowboys tried their best to do just that.
One of the first questions to coach Wade Phillips after yesterday's 10-6 loss to the Eagles was whether his quarterback was injured.
"I don't think so," he said with a straight face.
Romo tried to say his thumb was "fine" until it was pointed out that his throwing hand was encased in tape. Then he noted, "I'm not a doctor," and claimed not to remember when the injury occurred.
For the record, sometime early in the third quarter Romo's hand banged off someone's helmet. When he came off the field, the Cowboys' celebrity quarterback was surrounded by medical personnel, and backup Brad Johnson immediately began warming up - a series of events that Phillips insisted he knew nothing about. X-rays taken after the game were negative.
Romo played the entire game, but had by far his worst performance of the season. The same could be said for the Dallas offense, which was ranked second in the NFL in yards and points but left without a touchdown for the first time since a 26-3 loss at Cincinnati on Nov. 7, 2004.
Romo was erratic long before the injury, and his inaccuracy was the key issue for an offense that had chances for big plays. On the Cowboys' first pass of the game, Romo missed a wide-open Terrell Owens on a deep route that looked like a sure touchdown. By halftime, he had completed only five passes, all to tight ends, having missed several open shots down the field.
"They had a really good scheme and they had a couple of things go their way that you just can't account for," Romo said. "They had d-linemen jumping in my window right when I was passing. They put a lot of pressure on us and we didn't handle it as well as we've done.
"It's frustrating because obviously I played pretty poorly and I wish I'd played better."
The list of offensive disasters seemed endless. Romo finished with a 22.2 passer rating - 85.5 points short of his season average - and was intercepted three times. The running game managed a mere 53 yards and 3.5 yards per carry. Owens didn't catch a pass until the Cowboys' first play of the fourth quarter.
At one point, an obviously frustrated Owens was seen shouting on the sideline.
"When you're used to doing things methodically, the three-and-outs were really frustrating," Owens said. "I got frustrated because I want to win the game. But I have all the confidence in the world we'll bounce back.
"There's no doubt in this locker room . . . The way we've played this season, there's no reason for a lack of confidence. Not at this stage of the game. We're not going to let any doubt creep in because we lost this game."
Even during the game, there was no doubt. More than once this season, the Cowboys have struggled and trailed most of the game only to come back to win. Last week, for example, Detroit was a fumble recovery away from a victory, but the Cowboys drove for the winning touchdown with 18 seconds left.
They expected this one to be no different.
"You keep thinking, 'OK, next series. Next series. Next series. Let's go. This one's it,' '' said wide reciver Patrick Crayton. "We thought we'd get that last shot, 2 minutes and some change left, no timeouts . . . Perfect. That's perfect for us. We love that. But when you don't execute and you don't get into that vibe like that, that rhythm, it's not going to happen.
"We just left a lot of yards out there. We left a lot of opportunities on the field." *