ARLINGTON — Tony Romo had the best game of his career and the best showing in Cowboys history. But it wasn't enough, as the Broncos beat the Cowboys Sunday in Arlington, 51-48.
The second-best quarterback on the field won the game - but that's no insult to Peyton Manning, who threw for 414 touchdowns and four touchdowns. A late Matt Prater field goal won it as time expired.
Romo threw for 506 yards and five touchdowns, shattering Don Meredith's 50-year old record for the most single-game yardage in franchise history. He made one mistake - an interception to Danny Trevathan with two minutes left in the game. The Broncos converted a first down, then ran out the clock and kicked the winning field goal.
Owner Jerry Jones doesn't blame Romo for this loss. "Tony played the best game of his career," Jones said.
The Cowboys took a late lead when Romo found Dez Bryant, who went 79-yards on a catch and run. This set up a 6-yard out to Cole Beasley, who scored the touchdown that made the score 48-41.
Manning had a quick answer, leading a 71-yard drive to even the score - giving the Cowboys the ball again with 2:39 left in the ballgame. Romo was sacked on the first play of the ensuing drive. The interception, over the middle on a short pass attempt to Gavin Escobar, came on the second.
Manning looked unstoppable early in the game. After the Cowboys took an early 14-0 lead through Romo's near-perfection, Manning reeled off the next four touchdowns, making the score 28-17. The last of Manning's scores came on 3rd-and-1.
The offense was lined up with no receivers wide, and Manning made a move as if to hand off to the running back. He fooled everyone, however - TV cameras included - and kept the ball, running around the shocked defenders for an easy score in the far left portion of the end zone.
The Cowboys showed some resilience late in the half when Tony Romo Marched them down to set up a 48-yard Dan Bailey field goal. The Cowboys could have had a chance to make a play for the end zone, but receiver Terrance Williams failed to go out of bounds on a 38-yard reception.
Bailey nailed his second field goal of the half to make it 28-20
The Broncos received to start the third quarter and promptly marched down the field for another score. 13 plays and 7 minutes later, a Wes Welker 2-yard pass took the score to 35-20.
The Cowboys' weapons weren't done, however. The next drive started off meekly, with a 1-yard run by DeMarco Murray - but Dallas needed only one more play to get on the scoreboard. Romo found Williams again - and this time, Williams went 83 yards. He caught the perfectly-thrown ball right over his defender and ran untouched into the end zone. 35-27 Broncos.
The Broncos offense was so effective, that their next drive ending in a field goal was a victory for the Cowboys defense. The Cowboys got the ball back, got long completions from Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley, then Bryant separated from his man and caught a two-yard out from Romo in the end zone. The Cowboys went for 2 with the 5-point deficit but failed to convert.
Considering the Broncos offense, however, the Cowboys' offensive effort seemed like it might end up futile - when the unexpected happened: The Cowboys defense forced a turnover. Morris Claiborne found a deep Manning pass and hauled it in himself, handing Manning his first interception of the season.
The Cowboys then marched down the field just as they had done all day- and a ten-yard touchdown connection between Romo and Witten gave them their first lead of the second half. They went for two and converted it this time - and now lead 41-38.
The Broncos had their own productive drive - but it fell below the usual bar of 7 points. A Matt Prater field goal evened the score at 41.
The Cowboys' passing game was far from done, though. They had records in their sights. Tony Romo found Dez Bryant down the sideline, and he ran through the field to turn the play into a 79-yard gain. Beasley punched it in from four yards for the late lead. Romo's day was fully historic and near-perfect: 25/35, 506 yards, 5 touchdowns and no interceptions. He was less than fifty yards short of Norm van Brocklin's NFL yardage record and looked to have led his team to an incredible win over the NFL's best team.
Knowshon Moreno scored to even the game at 48. The improbable Romo interception two plays into the next drive essentially sealed a victory for the Broncos, who won on a short field goal from Prater.
The loss is not Romo's fault, but the quarterback says it will stick with him.
"You lose and it just eats at you, just grinds away at you thinking ‘What could we have done? What should I have done?," he said. "So, yeah, it will take some times, but we’ll have to be ready to go next week.”
Linebacker Sean Lee knows the defense has to do more.
"Defensively, we were just terrible, no way around it. Anytime you allow 51 points, that's unacceptable. Right now, we’re not a good defense," he said.
The Cowboys had three massive receiving performances on the day. Rookie Terrance Williams piled up 151 yards and a touchdown on four catches, Dez Bryant tallied 141 and two scores on four receptions, and tight end Jason Witten collected 121 of his own along with a touchdown - on seven grabs.
Manning broke the record for TD passes through five games with his 19th on a 9-yard toss to Thomas in the second quarter.
The 2-3 Cowboys, who are tied with Philadelphia for the NFC East division lead, will play the rival Washington Redskins next Sunday night in Arlington. Washington is 1-3 as quarterback Robert Griffin III continues to recover from a serious leg injury sustained late last season.