Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, right, picks himself up from the turf after being sacked by Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Tank Johnson, left, during the second quarter on Thursday.AP PHOTO
IRVING, Texas — Tony Romo might not want to take the splint off his passing hand the way he e Dallas Cowboys are playing.
Romo crisply guided Dallas to touchdowns on its first three drives and points on the first four, then turned the early surge into a 34-9 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday.
The Cowboys won their third straight, matching their best roll of the season, all coming since Romo returned from a broken right pinkie. Dallas is 8-4 and back near the top of the NFC playoff race. Now comes the hard part — staying there.
The Cowboys’ next three games are against Pittsburgh, the New York Giants and Baltimore. That stretch will be even tougher if they’re without linebacker DeMarcus Ware and running back Marion Barber. Both left with injuries in the third quarter, Ware because of a sprained left knee and Barber with a bruised right pinkie toe. Coach Wade Phillips said X-rays showed no break for Barber and that Ware seemed to be OK.
“It will be a challenge to get into the playoffs, but we feel very confident in our ability to win football games,” Romo said. “I like our chances.”
The Seahawks lost their fifth straight game and fell to 2-10. It matches the most losses outgoing coach Mike Holmgren has had in his 17 years in the NFL, and there are four games left.
Seattle was within a touchdown of winning its past three games, but this one was never close after former Dallas running back Julius Jones fumbled on the Seahawks’ first possession. The Cowboys wound up driving for a touchdown that made it 14-0 on the way to 24-3 midway through the second quarter.
Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck was 22-of-38 for a season-high 287 yards. He threw one interception and was sacked seven times, the most by Dallas since having nine on Nov. 9, 1997. Ware had three, giving him an NFL-best 15 this season.
With the defense playing like that and the offense scoring in the 30s in consecutive weeks, the Cowboys clearly are playing they way they need to be down the stretch. They may be getting another boost with suspended cornerback-punt returner Adam “Pacman” Jones eligible to play again starting against the Steelers. Jones watched this game from the Dallas sideline.
Whatever giddiness Cowboys fans might be feeling must be tempered by the caliber of their past two foes, and the caliber of the next three. Another stumbling block is their woeful recent history in Decembers. Dallas hasn’t had a winning record that month since 2001.
“I think everyone knows the importance of these last games down the stretch,” receiver Terrell Owens said. “There’s really not a whole lot to be said, just go out and play.”
It’s no coincidence the Cowboys have turned their season around since Romo’s return. His broken bone actually isn’t healed completely, so he’s been playing with a splint protecting it. With 10 days off before the next game, Romo might be back to normal by then.
“I’d be very surprised if I wore the splint against Pittsburgh, but you never know what’s going to happen in the next week,” Romo said.
He was in fine form Thursday.
Romo started 12-of-14 for 198 yards and two touchdowns, with Barber scoring once in between. It was the first time all season the Cowboys scored touchdowns on three straight drives. And it was the first time they’d started a game that way since Oct. 9, 1994, according to Stats Inc.
Another indication of how easy it was: Dallas gained first downs on 17 of their first 23 plays.
Romo finished 22-of-33 for 331 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. Jason Witten was a big part of the offense for the first time since breaking a rib, catching nine passes for 115 yards and a touchdown, and Owens had five catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. He blew his chance for a second straight 100-yard game by dropping a wide-open slant in the fourth quarter.
“T.O. will tell you I’m playing at a ridiculously high level,” Romo said, smirking.
Joked Phillips: “If we get the splint off, he might throw for 300 yards — oh, wait, he did.”
Jones was held to 37 yards on 11 carries in his return to Texas Stadium. Dallas fans booed every time he got the ball.
While Ware got the majority of Dallas’ sacks, Bradie James got two, Tank Johnson got his first of the season and Greg Ellis added another.
Johnson followed his with an arms-flapping gyration in some sort of gobbling turkey version of the Chicken Dance. The game was so lopsided by then that every sack was punctuated with other players trying to copy it.