Romo more interested in his progress than talking about injuries

Updated: September 11, 2008, 2:32 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

IRVING, Texas -- The bandage was off, the stitches hardly visible under the stubble around Tony Romo's chin.

Asked about it, Romo mumbled, "Just stitches. It'll be all right. They can be exposed."

When the injury came up again minutes later, Romo was just as dismissive, saying only, "It's fine, I'll be good."

Romo doesn't like talking about injuries or even acknowledging them. He's also not into all the praise he's gotten from teammates and coaches for the way he handled his pair of injuries in the opener Sunday at Cleveland.

The biggie was getting sandwiched by a pair of 300-pounders. He winced while on the ground, then stood up to find blood coming out of his chinstrap. He'd later need 13 stitches to close the wound, but on the very next snap he threw a 19-yard completion. He led the Cowboys to a touchdown on that drive, too, before trainers got a chance to patch him up.

In the same quarter, Romo hurt the middle finger on his left hand. X-rays showed no break, but between the aches in his finger, his bloody chin and a lopsided lead, he would've been excused for calling it a day. He never even thought about it, though, showing the kind of toughness that goes a long way in a locker room and means even more coming from a guy just voted a team captain. (And someone whose cut-up mug might wind up in a glossy celebrity magazine.)

"You don't think that," Romo said Wednesday. "You think, 'I'm not hurt enough to leave the game.' If I can see and I'm ... able to walk, I feel like you can go play. It's more fun to play than not play. So you play."

Besides, something else was going on.

The opener was Romo's first real test of his offseason pet project, a technical rough spot he spent months trying to smooth out -- but refused to disclose. After going 24-of-32 for 320 yards in the 28-10 victory over Cleveland, Romo finally fessed up, explaining that his big secret involved his footwork, more specifically keeping his feet planted during five-step drops.

Maybe this description will make more sense: He's seeking more of a "calmness" in the pocket.

"I think that's a hard thing to do, to gain that ability to get to that point," said Romo, who is only in his third season as a starting quarterback. "I'm still working on it."

Any quarterback would've felt calm against the Browns considering how well Dallas' offensive line blocked and how reluctant Cleveland was to send extra rushers at Romo. Romo acknowledged that, adding that having great blocking in the past sometimes masked his, well, lack of calm in the pocket.

He noticed the flaw, though, and decided to do something about it. It's no surprise considering that even when he was a third-stringer with little shot of playing he practiced not only the regular throws but also what it's like to throw off the wrong foot or across his body -- the kinds of plays quarterbacks have to make under duress, just so he'd be ready to handle those situations once they came up.

This refinement was almost the opposite of bailing out of trouble. It was all about remaining poised even when instincts say hurry up.

"The reality of the quarterback position is you feel the same amount of pressure through the first four or five steps every time," Romo said. "You feel like you have to work fast because everything happens fast. So you get this feeling, 'Get back, get the ball out, get through your reads' and the faster you can do it is good.'

"But I was thinking about it this offseason and I kind of came to the conclusion of 'not every time.' If you can allow yourself to take that breath, to get that feeling of calmness, to stand there, all of a sudden, things will open up."

Romo isn't always looking for that extra heartbeat or two to look around. He just wants to be able to throw on the brakes when he recognizes that the chance is there.

"If they didn't rush anybody, it would be hard for a quarterback because ... you're sitting there and your rhythm tells you the ball needs to come here, here or here, and if it's not there that quickly, then I need to run or throw it away. That's what your rhythm has told you your entire career," he said. "I'm kind of reworking that in my brain a little."

So, how did Romo simulate a rush during the offseason?

"It's hard," he said, laughing. "I don't want to tell you because I don't want to give away everything. But I feel it's helped me a lot."

Up next is Philadelphia's hard-hitting, blitzing defense, a unit that should provide a much bigger challenge than the Browns did.

"They're not going to let the quarterback sit back there and hold the ball," Romo said. "It'll be a good test."

Despite Romo's injury, Romo's girlfriend, entertainer Jessica Simpson, appeared on Tuesday's edition of ABC's "Good Morning America" and had some trash talk for Eagles fans.

Simpson was on the show to kick off "Good Morning America's" fall concert series in Times Square by performing her current single, "Come on Over," and "With You," a No. 1 song from her 2003 quadruple-platinum album, "In This Skin."

After the performance, GMA anchor Robin Roberts spotted a fan in the front row of the crowd wearing a replica of Romo's jersey, to which Simpson said the No. 9 jersey was for "September 9th."

"They [the Cowboys] came in with a victory to open up the season," Roberts said.

"Let's go Cowboys!" Simpson said to a smattering of applause from the New York crowd.

"I know there's Giants fans out there," Simpson said.

"And we had an Eagles shout out over there, too," Roberts said.

"That's next week, and we're going to kick your butt, too," Simpson said, laughing.

It was Dec. 16, 2007 when the "curse of Jessica Simpson" was coined after the Cowboys lost to the Eagles 10-6. Romo played poorly with Simpson at the game and some fans blame for Dallas' early exit from the playoffs.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.