ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Tony Romo was satisfied even after being sacked four times and turning the ball over three times in the Dallas Cowboys’ home opener.
With a suffocating defense and finally having some short scoring drives, the Cowboys won 16-10 over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday despite again being far from perfect and still unsure of their real identity.
“To win this game, with the way our defense played, and grind it out,” Romo said. “This is a very, very satisfying win, even though it will kind of get lost in the shuffle as you move into the season. … These are the kind of wins you have to have.”
The Cowboys (2-1) will take them any way they can get them, especially after winning at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants before a 20-point loss at Seattle.
“Ugly is good if we win,” said Sean Lee, whose interception set up the Cowboys at the Tampa Bay 23 in the first quarter for their only touchdown drive.
Dallas scored twice before halftime when starting in Tampa Bay territory and overcame the miscues by Romo, two on reversed calls that became fumbles. The Cowboys allowed the Bucs (1-2) only 166 total yards — 70 of those coming on their last drive before a failed onside kick attempt in the final 40 seconds.
Romo and the Cowboys didn’t even mind going into victory formation and having to take a couple of extra kneel-downs against the Bucs, who a week earlier made a big push against the New York Giants in a similar situation that raised the ire of coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning.
On Sunday, players from both sides were shaking hands both times new Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano called timeouts. The sidelines were emptying with 4 seconds left when there was an offside penalty called, though that ended the game.
“We need to stop being known for the kneel-down play,” Schiano said. “We need to be known for winning football games.”
Romo was unscathed on the extra snaps after the timeouts. The Cowboys were obviously prepared for the kind of game-ending plays that Schiano said would remain in his playbook, and had worked when he coached at Rutgers.
Schiano and Cowboys coach Jason Garrett cordially spoke at midfield after the game.
DeMarco Murray had an 11-yard TD run and Dan Bailey kicked field goals of 32, 26 and 22 yards for the Cowboys.
But Dallas had 13 penalties for 105 yards, including four against right tackle Doug Free (three false starts and a holding call). There were also more dropped passes, including a likely touchdown off the fingers of Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten running alone on the final play of the third quarter.
“The big thing is we won one, even though there were a lot of things that could cause you to lose one,” owner Jerry Jones said. “Romo told me that was a Pittsburgh game out there, not looking pretty but finding a way to get a win. The defense bailed us out.”
Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman fumbled both times he was sacked, though the Bucs managed to recover both. One was on third down at their own 1, setting up Dez Bryant’s 45-punt return to the 6 before Bailey’s final field goal with 2:43 left.
The Bucs got 70 of their yards after that for Connor Barth’s 28-yard field goal.
Dallas hadn’t started a drive in the opponents’ territory this season until Lee’s two-handed interception off a deflected pass. That led to the tying touchdown by Murray, the first rushing score by a Cowboys running back in 10 games.
A muffed punt recovered by Orie Lemon at the Bucs 39, with a 15-yard personal foul penalty tacked on, set up Bailey’s first field goal in the second quarter.
Schiano won two challenges on plays in the third quarter, though his team failed to take advantage after both resulted in fumbles by Romo, who completed 25 of 39 passes for 283 yards. They punted both times.
Romo was in the grasp of Gerald McCoy with his right arm extended, when he flicked the ball forward in what was initially ruled an incomplete pass. Officials watched the replay and determined the ball was loose when Romo tried to push it out, and called it a fumble recovered by Gary Gibson at the 19.
The Bucs got to the Cowboys 42 before punting, but quickly got another chance after another challenge.
Michael Bennett, the younger brother of former Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett, pushed around Witten and sacked Romo, knocking the ball loose. Officials blew the whistle and indicated Romo was down, even as Eric Wright ran with the ball toward the end zone.
Schiano threw his red challenge beanie again, and the play was then ruled a fumble recovered at the Dallas 31. An intentional grounding penalty and two incompletions led to another punt.
“Every week we’re coming together, but there is one thing holding us back every week,” Bennett said. “We just have to figure out how to play a complete game. That’s going to come sooner than later. ”
The Bucs had a quick 7-0 lead after Romo — who had 11 TDs with no interceptions his previous three games against them — was picked off by Aqib Talib on the fourth play of the game at the Cowboys 29.
That led to Luke Stocker’s 1-yard TD catch from Freeman, who hit only 10 of 28 passes for 110 yards.
Notes: Buccaneers DE Adrian Clayborn left with a knee injury. Schiano said he would have tests Monday. .. Cowboys S Barry Church ruptured his Achilles tendon and will have season-ending surgery Monday.