O, Romo, Romo, how for art thou, Romo?
"I'm confident that I'll feel pretty good for the game," the Dallas Cowboys hero replied.
You don't need a Shakespearean balcony scene to realize the importance of Tony Romo's return to the Cowboys, perhaps just in time to save a season going wrong. The quarterback whose broken pinkie sidelined him for three games returns Sunday night to face the Washington Redskins in a game Dallas is calling a must win in everything but name.
"I wouldn't say it's a must game," receiver Terrell Owens said, "but we need to win the game."
Rivalry Week? How about Desperation Week? For both teams, that is. Even though the Redskins (6-3) lead the Cowboys (5-4) by a game in the NFC East, the moods in Washington and Texas are similar.
"It's a must win for both teams -- and something has to give," Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell said.
Of course, neither would be in such a fix if it weren't for something else they have in common: The Redskins and Cowboys are the only two teams to lose to the St. Louis Rams this year.
"We saw when we played St. Louis -- you can't take anyone for granted," Dallas tight end Jason Witten said.
The other problem for these teams is the emergence of the NFC South, which could snag one or both of the wild-card spots that had been expected to go to the East. If Carolina (7-2), Tampa Bay (6-3) and Atlanta (6-3) keep winning, the only sure route to the postseason for the Cowboys and Redskins would be to catch the first-place New York Giants (8-1), who are threatening to run away and hide.
"The Giants are definitely trying to distance themselves from everybody else, and we've got to keep pace," Redskins right tackle Jon Jansen said. "If we don't keep pace, then we'll be looking at a wild-card game and then you're looking all the way across the board, how we match up (in the standings). We've got to win some ballgames."
The NFL thought enough of the NFC East to feature the division on back-to-back Sunday nights. Redskins coach Jim Zorn was a no-win spectator as he watched the Giants beat the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
"It was tough to know who to root for," Zorn said. "And because of what happened, we have to have a little help if we're going to achieve one of our goals."
The bye week gave several Cowboys time to heal. In addition to Romo, left guard Kyle Kosier is expected to play after missing the last six games with a right foot injury, as is cornerback Terence Newman after being out five because of a sports hernia.
The Cowboys went 1-2 while Romo was sidelined, but there is unanimous agreement that the team's struggles began before he was hurt. The first cracks in the facade showed in Week 4, with Dallas was stunned at home 26-24 by the Redskins. His return might not be an instant salve.
"I don't know if it's that simple," Witten said. "I mean, even before that we weren't playing our best football. I think that just collectively understanding you have to win your own battle, one-on-one, within the team concept. Obviously not having your quarterback out there puts you in a bad spot. I think we're kind of rallying behind everybody being healthy and making a big push here."
The Redskins are thinking more highly of Romo's potential impact. Exhibit A: Dallas averaged only 140 yards passing in three games with Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger.
"When they get Romo back in, they're at full power," Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. "It's like an automobile getting its engine back in."
As one engine returns, another will likely watch from the sideline. Clinton Portis, the league's second-leading rusher, sprained his knee in Washington's 23-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers before the bye and isn't expected to play.
The Redskins are so nervous about the game that they are taking extra measures to make sure they have a true home-field advantage. Steelers fans dominated the lower bowl of the stadium two weeks ago, so executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato was on the radio this week practically begging the Washington faithful not to sell tickets to Cowboys fans. The team-affiliated radio station is distributing 50,000 "Redskins Rally Rags," a response to the Terrible Towels waved by those Pittsburgh infiltrators.
Needless to say, the nail-biting part of the season has arrived.
"In this next three weeks, you'll really see some teams stay up in the playoff race and other teams will fall behind," Jansen said. "The third quarter of the season is really where it gets tough, and you've got to be mentally tough to win at this time."