IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo insisted all summer that everything would be fine.
Whatever problems the Dallas Cowboys had moving the ball in preseason games, he was confident of working them out because, he said repeatedly, he treats practices as if they're games, even in training camp.
Considering the success Romo has had as a starter in September the past three seasons, maybe there really is nothing to worry about for the Cowboys.
Romo, the undrafted free agent turned record-setting quarterback and three-time Pro Bowler, knows the significance of a strong start.
"I just think it's important to the season," Romo said. "You know how it goes if you don't start off winning football games."
Especially when there are Super Bowl expectations and the unique opportunity to become the first host team to play in the championship game, though Romo insists that doesn't really change anything.
"There's pressure to perform every year," Romo said.
Romo is 9-2 in September games since 2007, his first full season as a starting quarterback. He has won all three of his season openers.
Only Brett Favre has won that many opening-month games in that span, falling to 9-3 after Minnesota's 14-9 loss to New Orleans in the NFL opener Thursday night.
Both of Romo's September setbacks have been two-point losses at home against NFC East rivals. He is 5-0 the first month of the season on the road, and that's where Dallas opens the season Sunday night -- in Washington against Donovan McNabb and the Redskins.
"Romo is an elite quarterback. I like Romo's game," McNabb said. "He's been successful in these last three years or so. So I think Romo has made a name for himself, where when you talk about the Dallas Cowboys, obviously you start with Tony Romo."
New Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was still in Denver in 2003 when Romo was an undrafted quarterback out of FCS school Eastern Illinois. That is the same college attended by Shanahan and Sean Payton, then the Cowboys offensive coordinator and now the Super Bowl-winning head coach for the New Orleans Saints.
Shanahan and the Broncos offered Romo a $20,000 signing bonus, twice what the Cowboys gave him.
"It still doesn't seem right," Shanahan said with a chuckle this week. "I was bragging to my coaches, I've got an Eastern Illinois tie. ... Sean steals him from me. I still give Sean a hard time about that."
That hasn't changed Shanahan's appreciation for Romo and how the quarterback handles himself on and off the field. "He's just got a great feel for the game, he's got a great sense of timing. He can escape the rush, he can make plays when there's nothing there," Shanahan said. "I love his personality, his leadership. I think the world of him."
Romo enters 2010 with a 38-17 record in regular-season games, a .691 winning percentage surpassed among active quarterbacks by only a pair of multiple Super Bowl winners, New England's Tom Brady and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, and San Diego's Philip Rivers.
"I don't think about that stuff," Romo said. "That's just for people to talk about. It's just about winning and trying to be as good as you can be."
Finally last season, on his third try, Romo won a playoff game. That alone will change the way some people perceive him.
"Winning helps, whenever it is," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "The more you win, I think the more confidence you have. The better you play, the more you win."
Especially when it counts.
Romo and the starting offense managed only one touchdown drive in four preseason games, and that covered only 8 yards. The No. 1 unit twice had turnovers in the red zone in its last preseason game against Houston nearly two weeks ago.
Still, Romo doesn't seem too worried about any of that.
"The thing I do know is over time, if you're able to do it consistently in practice, it usually shows up in the games," said Romo, indicating that everything has been good on the practice field.
Getting off to another strong start is essential for the Cowboys, especially considering their schedule down the stretch.
Dallas doesn't face a playoff team from last season until going to Minnesota in its fifth game, then three weeks later at Green Bay.
The Cowboys' last game before Thanksgiving is against Detroit, then things could really get difficult. They play last season's Super Bowl teams, New Orleans and Indianapolis, in consecutive weeks to start a closing six-game span against five opponents who won at least 10 games and went to the playoffs last season .
Romo realizes the more he wins, the closer the Cowboys can get to what they want.
"That's exactly what it is," Romo said. "You're not going to win a Super Bowl every year. But you can put your team in position to have a chance to play for the Super Bowl every year."
Based on what he's done so far, there's no reason to believe Romo and the Cowboys won't start off in the right direction.
*Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press *