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Without T.O., Cowboys' problems linger

While Terrell Owens has been exiled from the Cowboys' locker room, his negative influence seems to linger. The whole point of Jerry Jones' bold and expensive offseason decision to jettison the team's best receiver was to enable Tony Romo to assume a leadership role.

If Jones and head coach Wade Phillips are inclined to tolerate criticism of Romo by his teammates, then they probably should have just kept Owens. The decision not to do so completely fails if Patrick Crayton and Roy Williams are allowed to criticize and question their own quarterback without repudiation. Even if Romo's performance level has plunged, and that certainly seems to be the situation. This season, Romo has not completed half his passing attempts to any of his top three receivers -- Williams, Crayton and Miles Austin.

Still, Crayton's comments suggesting the Cowboys diminish reliance on Romo to become a power running team are a thinly concealed indictment of a quarterback with one touchdown pass in his last three games. What might Troy Aikman's reaction have been if Michael Irvin had publicly stated the Cowboys would win more often if Norv Turner took the football out of Aikman's hands and gave it to Emmitt Smith? That's essentially what Crayton is suggesting.

Romo seems to be playing against instinct as he adapts his style to minimize turnovers. "I think you want to be a guy who protects the football and makes plays," Romo says. "That's what you're looking for."

If the injury-depleted Cowboys lose on the road against the winless Chiefs, then Jones and Phillips will all be confronting two weeks of intense speculation about whether Jones uses the bye week to do something he's never done in the middle of the season. Jones has fired every head coach in Cowboys history who didn't quit on him first, but he's never replaced a head coach in midseason.

Maybe Jones can consult Crayton and Williams about what he should do.