IRVING, Texas (AP) — Tony Romo skipped left and back to the right, spun out of a sack and threw the ball to a sliding Jason Witten, who made a drive-saving catch.
The Dallas quarterback displayed the full power of his offense from the earliest moments of Sunday's shootout with Denver, though the first 500-yard passing game in team history was spoiled by a late interception that allowed Peyton Manning and the Broncos to win their 16th-straight regular season game.
The defense is another story, now having allowed 400-yard days to Manning, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees in the past seven games dating to last season. It leaves the Cowboys wondering where they are following a 51-48 loss that dropped them to 2-3 with Washington's Robert Griffin III returning next Sunday after he embarrassed Dallas on Thanksgiving a year ago.
"The fact that we weren't able to win when the offense scored 48 points is absolutely unacceptable," linebacker Sean Lee said. "Right now, we're not a good defense. Two weeks in a row, we've given up way too many points and way too many yards. Until we get better, we're not going to win."
In other words, Lee doesn't care that it was Manning on the other side, simply extending his record-setting pace to start the season — now 20 touchdown passes through five games after getting four against Dallas.
Dallas couldn't stay with Denver's receivers early and had the same problem late after finally slowing the Broncos a little in the third quarter. Romo's fifth touchdown pass put the Cowboys up 48-41 midway through the fourth quarter, but Manning completed all five passes on a 73-yard drive to tie things up again.
The Broncos won on Matt Prater's 28-yard field goal as time expired after Romo finally made a mistake on an interception by Danny Trevathan at the Dallas 24 in the final 2 minutes.
"It's disappointing because the offense, all the great plays they made throughout the day," said Lee, who led Dallas with 16 tackles. "They continually brought us back in the game, and when it mattered most, we couldn't get a stop."
The Cowboys couldn't get a sack, either. They stress pressure on the quarterback as much as they do turnovers in their new four-man front under first-year defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, but they have just one sack the past two games against Rivers and Manning.
Dallas did get two takeaways against Denver, including Manning's first interception of the season by Morris Claiborne, who also recovered an early fumble by Eric Decker that helped the Cowboys go up 14-0.
"Knowing what my expectations were playing Denver and playing Peyton Manning coming in, I'm going to cut (Kiffin) some slack," Dallas owner Jerry Jones said. "I must tell you that I was expecting a high-scoring and high-yardage game from Denver and I knew we were going to have to match it."
The Cowboys matched it by displaying all their weapons at receiver, and even did it with Miles Austin sidelined for the second straight game by a hamstring injury.
Romo's 506 yards came on just 25 completions — 20 yards per grab. Five receivers had catches of at least 23 yards, including an 82-yarder that was rookie Terrance Williams' first career touchdown. Dez Bryant had a 79-yarder to set up a score and a pair of 2-yard TDs to give him six for the season.
There were three 100-yard receivers — Williams (four catches for 151), Bryant (six for 141) and Witten (seven for 121).
And there was the old-school Romo, scrambling and throwing to Witten to extend a drive in the first quarter and later keeping a play going long enough to find Witten for a touchdown.
It's just that the interception was the same old Romo, too — a critical mistake late that soured an otherwise stellar day, and left the Cowboys in the position of badly needing to beat the Redskins or risk another season slipping away.
"Well, when I think your football team is good enough, you'll win those football games," Romo said. "That's partly why you try to get better during the football season."
The Cowboys are caught somewhere in the middle of having something to build on and a lot to work on.
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