ARLINGTON — Tony Romo put the Dallas Cowboys ahead by 24 points with his third touchdown pass right after halftime. That lead wasn’t enough after he followed that with
Two of the picks were returned for touchdowns, and the third set up Detroit’s game-winning score with 1:39 left as the Cowboys blew their largest lead ever to lose 34-30 to the undefeated Lions on Sunday.
“It hurts,” Romo said, not even talking about the still-sore ribs that forced to him take another pregame injection. “We were obviously in a position to win this game. ... It doesn’t feel good right now.”
Especially knowing the Cowboys (2-2) are going into their bye week and won’t play again for two weeks.
“It’s devastating,” linebacker Sean Lee said.
The Cowboys had won two in a row since a season-opening loss at the New York Jets when Romo had an interception and a fumble at the 3 as Dallas blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead for the first time in franchise history.
A week after that, Romo threw for 201 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime of a win at San Francisco despite suffering a fractured rib and punctured lung early in the game. They Cowboys were coming off a win over NFC East rival Washington six days earlier.
“I view the success we have, I view what he does well and I put the mistakes right in with what he does well and don’t in any way get discouraged about our future with Tony,” owner Jerry Jones said. “There’s no issue about faith in Romo, any place in this organization, period. ... If you’re going to try to make plays, then you’ve got a chance to have some bad plays. But however we go, we’ll go with Tony. As Tony goes, we’ll go.”
The Cowboys led 27-3 after Romo hit Jason Witten for a 1-yard touchdown only 2½ minutes into the second half.
Then came the two interceptions in a span of three throws. Bobby Carpenter, the former first-round pick by the Cowboys and one of Romo’s good friends, returned the first one 35 yards for a touchdown and Chris Houston took another one back 56 yards for a 27-17 score.
Jason Hanson kicked a 51-yard field goal to get Detroit within 30-27 soon after Cowboys coach Jason Garrett declined a penalty that would’ve pushed the Lions back 10 yards, but given them an extra down.
On the first snap after Hanson’s second field goal in his 299th career game, Romo threw while trying to avoid pressure and came up short to Witten. Stephen Tulloch intercepted, setting up the Lions at the 40.
“I just didn’t get enough on the throw. ... I thought it was going to be a big play for us, honestly,” Romo said. “It’s disappointing because I thought he was coming open past all the linebackers and there’s no safety help to that side. I wish I could have that throw back and just throw it further.”
Instead, Dallas-born Matthew Stafford led the Lions on a seven-play drive that ended with his second touchdown to Calvin Johnson, a 2-yarder with 1:39 left.
This was a bizarre way for the Cowboys to end an NFL-record streak of nine straight games decided by a field goal or less. The final play was wacky, too, with Felix Jones catching a short pass with no one around him on fourth-and-20, then running out of bounds after only gaining 8 yards.
While Stafford has the Lions off to their first 4-0 start since 1980, and they have won an NFL-best eight in a row, Romo and the Cowboys have another bitter loss.
“Nobody’s lost faith in Romo,” said safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the third quarter.
“We believe in him. He’s our guy and we’ll fight through it,” Witten said. “We just need to eliminate this roller coaster of a ride, and that’s the next step for us.”
Dallas’ previous biggest blown lead was 21 against Washington on Nov. 28, 1965, when the Cowboys led 21-0 in the second quarter on the way to a 34-31 loss.
Stafford had dozens of relatives and friends in the crowd, including his high school coach.
His first pass to Johnson was intercepted, leading to Dallas’ first touchdown and the defense was constantly in his face. He had a tough first half, but finished 21 of 43 for 240 yards and did a better job of finding Johnson after halftime. The game-winner came against tight coverage on a play when the Cowboys had 12 defenders on the field.
Johnson caught eight passes for 96 yards, and tied Cris Carter’s NFL record of catching two TDs in four straight games.
Romo was 34 of 47 for 331 yards, with three touchdowns. Dez Bryant caught two TDs before Johnson even had a single grab, and Laurent Robinson had seven catches for 116 yards.
Romo was on a roll of completing 13 of 14 passes, the only incompletion a clock-stopping spike, when Carpenter made a leaping interception and a weaving 35-yard return.
“I know he’s going to get beaten up by (the media) this week,” Carpenter said of Romo. “He’s the same quarterback he was two weeks ago when he was the hero. He’s a tremendous player and a top-five quarterback, in my opinion.”