Dec 21, 2014 7:27 PM
Romo, Cowboys reach playoffs in 42-7 rout of Colts
The Associated Press
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Tony Romo helped dump a bucket on Jason Garrett and playfully shoved him the same way the Dallas coach often does to his players.
The Cowboys had long since known their four-year playoff drought was over Sunday when they finally got to celebrate in the final seconds of a dominating 42-7 win over Indianapolis that clinched the NFC East title.
A special moment made perfect sense for the quarterback with a history of crushing late-season failures and a coach who kept getting Dallas to meaningful finales but couldn't shake questions about his future because he couldn't break through with a postseason trip.
"In so many ways, this is such a long journey and to get to a point to achieve your first goal of winning the division title, a lot goes into that," said Garrett, in his fourth full season. "I think the way you play in securing that matters, and I thought we played really, really well."
Romo threw four touchdown passes and broke Troy Aikman's franchise record for yards passing while the Cowboys (11-4) emphatically ended a three-game home losing streak, scoring touchdowns on their first four possessions.
Dallas had an opening for its first division title and postseason berth since 2009 because of Philadelphia's 27-24 loss at Washington on Saturday. The Eagles were eliminated with the Cowboys' win.
The Colts (10-5) didn't have much to play for with the AFC South title secured, and looked like it while they barely avoided their first shutout loss in 21 years.
"Yeah, it was a dismal start," said Andrew Luck, who threw for a season-low 109 yards with two interceptions and was pulled in the third quarter with the game out of hand. "It was bad. A lot of bad. Not much good, if any."
The Cowboys had already ended their three-year rut of 8-8 finishes that included losses in finales that kept them out of the playoffs. But they had to keep winning to make sure they got in.
Tight end Jason Witten had a touchdown catch and 90 yards receiving to reach his 11th straight season with at least 600 yards. He had the memorable one-liner that it couldn't be "the same old story" before training camp during the string of frustrating .500 finishes.
Then it kept being the same old story until Sunday, when Dallas kept alive its hopes for a first-round bye as well.
Romo led scoring drives of 80 and 75 yards, the latter ending on a 24-yard pass to Cole Beasley. He spun away from a shoulder tackle by D'Qwell Jackson and ran the final 13 yards to the end zone.
The 34-year-old Romo broke Aikman's record on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Witten, his teammate since they came into the league together 11 years ago.
"He's obviously just got a special place in my heart," said Romo, who has 32,971 career yards, 29 more than the three-time Super Bowl winner.
Coming off back surgery that kept him out of last year's season-ending loss to the Eagles, and another back injury sustained against Washington in October, Romo had his fifth game with a passer rating of at least 135. He completed 18 for 20 passes for 218 yards.
"I think the way he's played this year, the way great quarterbacks in this league have played for a long time, that's how Troy played," said Garrett, who was Aikman's backup in Dallas. "We ran the ball really, really well, controlled the line of scrimmage. And when Tony had opportunities today, and really throughout the year, he cashed in on them."
NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray played with a broken left hand, but the Cowboys didn't need much from him. He had 58 yards, with a 1-yard score.
With a home playoff game already in hand and little chance to get a first-round bye, Indianapolis sat receiver T.Y. Hilton (hamstring injury) and right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who is nursing a groin problem.
Trailing 35-0 in the third quarter, Luck went to the bench in favor of Matt Hasselbeck as the Colts set season lows in points and total yards (229) for the second straight week. They had just 1 yard rushing.
"They played at a different speed than we played at, and the score is indicative of that," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "We're going to have to get over this in a hurry."
Indianapolis had Dallas beaten on a fake punt after three straight running plays on its first possession. But a backpedaling Dewey McDonald, left uncovered on the outside, dropped punter Pat McAfee's perfect throw.
On the next play, Romo put Dallas up 14-0 with a 19-yard pass to Dez Bryant, who caught a scoring pass in his 12th consecutive game against the AFC to extend the longest interconference streak since the 1970 merger.
NOTES: Murray now has 1,745 yards and needs 29 to break career NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith's franchise record of 1,773 yards from 1995. ... The Colts barely extended their scoring streak to 336 games, second-longest behind Denver's 355.
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