Cowboys relish victory that drew record TV ratings

IRVING, Texas -- Jerry Jones likes to brag about the Dallas Cowboys being the top drawing card in the entire entertainment world. His premise: The Cowboys draw the highest ratings among NFL teams and the NFL is the highest-rated programming on television.

Games like Monday night sure help his claim.

Dallas' 41-37 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles was filled with drama. The lead changed seven times, the momentum swaying on good plays and goofy ones, with big-name players from both teams at both ends of the spectrum.

Mix in the backdrop of a rivalry and division supremacy, a few injuries, some questionable officiating calls, several big milestones and the historic nugget of this being the final Monday night game at Texas Stadium, and it's no wonder the Cowboys were ratings gold yet again -- a whopping 12.95 million homes and 18.6 million viewers, the largest audience ever for a program on cable television. It's the second time in three years Dallas has set that mark.

"What a way to have the last Monday Night Football game at Texas Stadium," Jones said. "It had it all."

Jones' joy obviously is tinted by his team coming out on top. Thing is, Tony Romo and the Cowboys are getting awfully good at winning these kinds of games -- both those with the entire country watching and the wild-and-crazy variety.

Just last season in Buffalo, Romo threw five interceptions and lost a fumble, but rallied the Cowboys to victory.

"From then on, his feelings have been ... (when) things aren't going good, they can change and you can change them," coach Wade Phillips said Tuesday. "Having the confidence of doing it before certainly makes a difference."

That Buffalo game, by the way, also was on a Monday night.

Romo is 11-3 in nationally televised games, the ones on Sunday night, Monday night, Saturday night, Thursday night, Thanksgiving and Christmas, when everyone in the NFL is among those gathered around the tube.

Alas, Romo, is 0-2 under the similar scenario but higher stakes of the playoffs. (At least Jones can take solace in both those games making for gripping television.)

On Monday night, Romo was hyped up from the start, getting introduced last in pregame ceremonies and coming out running so fast he practically passed Terrell Owens, who was announced right before him.

On the Cowboys' first drive, Romo and Owens hooked up on a 72-yard touchdown, the longest play of Romo's career and the 131st touchdown for Owens, making him second on the NFL career list. A 98-yard kickoff return stretched Dallas' lead without Romo taking another snap.

Then Romo made things far more interesting than he would've liked.

Escaping a sack, he tried too hard to turn it into a big gain and wound up throwing an interception. When the Cowboys got the ball back, he turned it over again by losing control of the ball three times on the same play, with Philadelphia recovering it in the end zone for a go-ahead touchdown. The Eagles eventually went up 30-21.

With the Cowboys moving out of Texas Stadium after the season, Dallas' thrilling victory will go down as the final Monday night game ever at the venue. See which players landed in the record book as game leaders:

» Top passer:Tony Romo (312 yards)

» Top rusher: Marion Barber (63 yards)

» Top receiver: J. Witten/D. Jackson (110 yards)

Phillips went to check on Romo after his fumble.

"You all right?" Phillips asked. "Leave the last one behind. It's over."

"OK," Romo said -- then did exactly that.

The quarterback knew part of his problem was slickness from tape covering a week-old injury on his non-throwing hand, so he peeled it off. He and his teammates also recalled the Buffalo game.

"This game is not without human error," Romo said. "You try to let those go and come back and score the next time."

Romo hit Owens for another TD on the next drive, then hit Jason Witten on a great play to set up a long field goal before halftime. Next came a go-ahead drive midway through the third quarter. Philadelphia reclaimed the lead, but when the Eagles fumbled on their next possession, Romo made them pay by marching Dallas for the seventh and final lead change of this instant classic.

"When things aren't going good, they can change, and you can change them," Phillips said. "Having the confidence of doing it before certainly makes a difference."

Romo, who had been 0-2 against Philadelphia at Texas Stadium, threw for 312 yards, his second straight game topping 300. It's also the 12th time he's done it in his career; just one more and he'll tie Troy Aikman's team record.

While the Cowboys came away keeping pace with the New York Giants atop the NFC East, they couldn't keep their lineup intact.

Safety Roy Williams broke a bone in his right arm and underwent surgery Monday to attach a plate. He's expected to miss about a month. Patrick Watkins will pick up most of the slack. Courtney Brown, who has been inactive the first two games, may get a chance and Dallas also may use more formations featuring cornerback Anthony Henry in Williams' place.

Witten sprained his shoulder but returned to make several big plays, including a 32-yard catch that set up the winning touchdown run by Marion Barber.

"He showed his heart and his character," Phillips said.

Notes: Phillips said cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones was going to pick up the ball Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson threw down on his way into the end zone, but Jones didn't bother because officials ruled it a touchdown and, thus, a dead ball. "He should've let us get the ball, run it back or do what we did with it and then they could review and say it was a touchdown or it wasn't a touchdown," Phillips said.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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