ARLINGTON, Texas - Tony Romo's broken rib hurt so much he needed a second pain-killing injection. His centre had a tendency to snap the ball too soon or to the wrong spot. And he couldn't get into the end zone no matter what, not even with a first down on the two-yard line.
Yet Romo and the Dallas Cowboys did the only thing that mattered. They won.
Dan Bailey kicked six field goals, including a go-ahead 40-yarder with 1:52 left, and linebacker Anthony Spencer forced a fumble that teammate Sean Lee recovered with 28 seconds left, giving the Cowboys an 18-16 victory over the Washington Redskins on Monday night.
"It feels good right now because we won," Romo said, smiling and wincing. "I'll be all right."
Romo was 22 of 36 for 255 yards. His best stat was simply lasting all four quarters.
The fact that he needed a second injection could explain the quarter-sized blotch of blood that appeared on his jersey above his left hip during the game. After the game, he joked that his new bride forced him to play, saying, "I can't have a weak husband lying around the house."
"I want to play," Romo said. "We only get to go out and do this 16 times, 16 days out of 365 days a year. You want to be out there. You put so much effort, when you go, you go."
Romo was hardly hit in the first half, then the Redskins got in several crushing blows starting just after halftime. That's also when the snaps became an issue. He couldn't hide his frustration with new centre Phil Costa, and clearly wasn't happy with receiver Kevin Ogletree after an incompletion at the end of the drive that reached the two-yard line; that failure forced Dallas to settle for its fifth field goal and a 16-15 deficit instead of a go-ahead touchdown.
Rob Ryan's re-energized Dallas defence got the ball back quickly, and Romo took advantage. Another bad snap left the Cowboys with a third-and-21, and Romo followed with a rollout to his right and a deep pass to Dez Bryant for a 30-yard gain. Another 15 yards were tacked on because of a facemask penalty on the beaten defender — cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who last week said he was hoping "to put my helmet on whatever's hurt" on Romo and all other wounded Cowboys.
Hall had plenty more to say after the game. In an expletive-filled interview, he questioned the eight-man front on Bryant's catch and the official's decision to flag him.
"I told the ref after that call, that might have been his worst call of the game," Hall said. "He's going to get demerit points for that call. Because that wasn't no facemask."
When Washington quarterback Rex Grossman's fumble was recovered by Lee, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett dropped to a knee and pumped his fist wildly. He had good reason to celebrate: Dallas was about to be 2-1, guaranteeing no repeat of last year's miserable 1-7 start. The Cowboys are even tied for first place in the NFC East, along with Washington (2-1), which was seeking its first 3-0 start since 2005.
"We're better than last year — already," Dallas linebacker Bradie James said.
This was the second straight game that a Romo-Bailey tandem pulled out a victory. Against San Francisco a week ago Sunday, Bailey made a tying field goal at the end of regulation, then the winner in overtime.
Bailey's other kicks Monday night covered 41 (twice), 32, 27 and 23 yards.
"We had good snaps, good holds, great protection. I had the easy job," said Bailey, an undrafted rookie who was named the nation's top kicker in college last season at Oklahoma State. "Whenever you can string a couple of kicks together, it's a confidence booster."
Romo wasn't the only Dallas player who gutted it out.
Bryant missed the previous game with a thigh injury, yet had four catches for 63 yards. Felix Jones, who separated a shoulder against the 49ers, ran for a career-high 115 yards and caught three passes for 40 more. Jason Witten fought through a rib injury to catch six passes for 60 yards.
"It wasn't a perfect performance by any means, but enough to win the game," Garrett said.
The Dallas defence limited the Redskins to field goals on two of their first three drives, the latter reaching the Dallas nine-yard line.
Grossman really only had one solid drive, a 76-yarder capped by a one-yard touchdown pass to Tim Hightower that put Washington up 16-9. The Redskins never even crossed midfield after that, punting on three straight drives then losing the fumble.
"It feels like the waste of a week," tight end Chris Cooley said. "We're capable of winning a division game on the road. I'm disappointed with the way we finished."
Grossman was 22 of 37 for 250 yards. He was sacked three times — once by DeMarcus Ware, his NFL-leading fifth — and threw an interception.
Explaining his game-deciding fumble, Grossman said, "I was trying to make a play. I felt like I could get the ball to Santana (Moss). I obviously couldn't."
Most of the Redskins' points came from Graham Gano, who made field goals of 50, 46 and 27 yards. Another was blocked after a poor hold.
"We're going to find out what type of football team we have," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "When you lose like that it hurts. We don't have time to feel sorry for yourself."
Notes: This was Dallas' ninth straight game decided by three points or less. ... Dallas improved to just 9-8 at Cowboys Stadium. The Redskins are 0-3. ... Bailey had the most field goals for Dallas since Billy Cundiff kicked seven in 2003. ... Washington's LaRon Landry had four tackles and forced a fumble in his first game since November because of injuries. ... This was the 15th Dallas-Washington game on a Monday night. The only teams that have met more are Denver-Raiders, 16 times.