ARLINGTON, Texas - All offseason, Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys thought about their horrendous finale in Philadelphia. Now they're headed back, playing so well that they've turned this return trip into a showdown to decide first place in the NFC East.
Romo threw touchdown passes to three receivers, including his new favorite target Miles Austin, and didn't have an interception for a career-best third straight game, leading the Cowboys to a 38-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday and into a tie with the Eagles for the division lead.
Dallas (5-2) went ahead on its second series and never let up thanks to the kind of consistency coach Wade Phillips has been seeking. Austin scored for a third straight game, DeMarcus Ware had a sack for a third straight game and Patrick Crayton returned a punt for a touchdown for the second straight week. Most importantly, the Cowboys made it three straight wins and four in their last five games.
"I feel good about the progress we've made, but we've still got a ways to go," Phillips said.
Last December, Dallas could've clinched a playoff spot with a win in Philadelphia. Instead, the Cowboys weren't even competitive, losing 44-6 in a game that led to offseason changes ranging from Terrell Owens getting cut to defensive coordinator Brian Stewart getting fired.
Romo came away dedicated to being more careful with his passes, and it seems to be paying off. Better than three straight interception-free games is that he's done it five times this season. That's more than he's ever done in an entire season and there are nine games left.
"Shock!" he said with a smirk. "I'm seeing things. It's as simple as that. I'm not throwing and hoping."
Romo was 21 of 36 for 256 yards, hitting 10 receivers, with the touchdowns going to Austin (3 yards), Roy Williams (7) and Sam Hurd (36, putting Dallas ahead for good at 7-3). Marion Barber added a 2-yard TD run and Crayton's game-breaking return covered 82 yards, 9 more than his game-breaking score the previous week.
Austin continued his emergence with five catches for 61 yards. He might've had more yards if Marcus Trufant hadn't interfered with him twice. But Austin wasn't perfect; he fumbled at the end of an end-around run (he recovered it) and failed to get over the crossbar on a celebratory dunk after his touchdown. Teammates got a good laugh out of it.
Dallas' defense contributed three sacks and forced a fumble when the game was close, preventing Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawks (2-5) from building on an early 3-0 lead. The Cowboys have 17 sacks in the last 18 quarters after being shut out the first 10 quarters. Ware is up to five sacks, this one coming days after signing a $78 million, six-year contract extension.
"I'm just glad to see as many people really do as well and play as well as they did today," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "(Philadelphia) is the kind of game that I think we're ready for.... Plus, I think we all remember so much - I know I do and so many players on this team remember - how we left Philadelphia last year."
Seattle was coming off its bye and had Trufant recovered from a back injury for the first time all season. The Seahawks were within 14-10 late in the second quarter, but did little right after that, trailing 38-10 before getting a short touchdown after Romo fumbled inside his 10-yard line.
Hasselbeck was 22 of 39 for 249 yards, with touchdown passes to Deion Branch and Justin Griffith. A bigger problem was that a defense determined to pressure Romo sacked him only twice.
"We put two weeks into this game plan. I felt like we were ready," Hasselbeck said. "We just didn't get it done..... I feel physically drained, emotionally drained. I'm frustrated. We're all searching for answers."
Seattle's lone star was linebacker David Hawthorne, who had both of the club's sacks and forced Romo's fumble. It was a nice homecoming for the native of nearby Corsicana and a product of nearby TCU. He had a lot of friends and family here, including a sister who is on the game-day staff at Cowboys Stadium.
Notes: Hurd's TD was his first from scrimmage since the 2007 opener.... Seattle CB Ken Lucas (shoulder) didn't return after a third-quarter collision with Dallas' Felix Jones.... Romo won his 12th straight November start.