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Without Favre, Packers hang in but can't beat Romo, Cowboys

Standing on the sideline, scowling at the pain of a banged-up right elbow and a separated left shoulder, all Brett Favre could do was watch Tony Romo impersonate him. The kid was good.

IRVING, Texas -- Standing on the sideline, scowling at the pain of a banged-up right elbow and a separated left shoulder, all Brett Favre could do was watch Tony Romo impersonate him.

The kid was good. Too good for Favre and the Green Bay Packers.

The Wisconsin native who spent all week denying Favre was his childhood hero sure played a lot like a young No. 4 Thursday night -- full of moxie and joy, but needing a bit of a high-wire act to send the Dallas Cowboys past the Packers 37-27 and into the lead for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

"When I got out to the field, (I realized) it was pretty neat, the atmosphere," Romo said. "I looked around and was like, `This is why you want to play sports.' You want to play in games like this. Your competitive juices get flowing and you want to prove what kind of player you are."

Romo threw four touchdown passes to send the Cowboys (11-1) to their sixth straight win that clinched a playoff berth. This victory could become pivotal because it might mean a rematch in the NFC championship would be at Texas Stadium instead of Lambeau Field.

"We just put ourselves in position," Dallas' Terrell Owens said. "We've got ourselves in the driver's seat. Now we've got to stay there."

The Packers (10-2) ended a six-game winning streak and are now essentially two games behind Dallas in the chase for the conference's top spot with only four games left.

The bigger concern for Green Bay is Favre's health.

Favre was hurt on a hit by cornerback Nate Jones in the second quarter. Now, his run of 249 consecutive starts -- a record that's about six seasons longer than the next-best by a quarterback -- might be in jeopardy, although he has 10 days to heal before the Packers play again, Dec. 9 at home against Oakland.

"I had a similar injury last year," Favre said. "I lost feeling in my fingers and I still have some tingling. But I think I'll be fine."

Backup Aaron Rodgers, who spent the week pretending he was Romo in Green Bay practices, provided the kind of rally Favre usually specializes in. He threw the first touchdown pass of his three-year career, but wasn't able to lead a Favre-esque rally.

The excitement of facing Favre brought out the best in Romo as he led the Cowboys to scores on their first five drives, capping the last three with touchdown passes. But once Rodgers came in, Romo lost his mojo, and so did Dallas.

A 27-10 lead frittered to 27-24, in part because of a failed fourth-down conversion when the Cowboys could have tried a field goal to stretch their lead to 30-17. Dallas really looked like it might blow it when Owens juggled a pass in the end zone and wound up flipping it over his head to cornerback Al Harris for an interception.

Green Bay's bid for a go-ahead tying touchdown ended quickly, then Romo drove right back for a lead-stretching touchdown -- to Patrick Crayton, not Owens.

Trailing 34-24, Rodgers was only able to get a field goal to get the Packers within a touchdown. They needed a stop from the defense, but with Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and cornerback Charles Woodson inactive with injuries, the unit wasn't up to the task. A clock-draining drive resulted in Nick Folk's third field goal and a 10-point lead with 1:03 left -- and with Favre nowhere in sight.

He ran back to the locker room with 2:23 left.

Romo was 19-of-30 for 309 yards. His four TD throws give him 33 for the year, smashing the club record. He tied another club mark by throwing a touchdown in his 16th straight game. Better yet, he did it not only in front of Favre, but also honorary captains Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman.

"I don't play for individual records," Romo said. "That's a testament to our team."

Owens caught seven passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. He tied a team record with his 14th TD catch of the season and tied another mark with a TD catch in seven straight games. Crayton caught two of the touchdowns and tight end Anthony Fasano had the other.

Dallas extended the best start in franchise history. With four games left, the Cowboys already have their most wins in a season since going 12-4 in 1995 -- their last Super Bowl season -- and they're two wins from matching the franchise record.

The Packers are still in great shape for at least the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye because their next three opponents have losing records. And the idea of starting Rodgers next week may no longer be as dreadful to fans who have wondered if he was a wasted draft pick. In the most extended action of his career, he was 18-of-26 for 201 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers.

His numbers were a lot better than Favre's 5-of-14 for 56 yards with two interceptions, one that looked like a punt and another on the play he was injured. At least two other heaves could have been picked off. The Packers' only touchdown during his action came on a 62-yard run by Ryan Grant.

Favre already considered Texas Stadium a miserable place, half-joking earlier this week that he was hoping "it would be gone before I got back there." This was his ninth loss in as many starts under the hole in the roof.

As if to remind him of his previous eight losses, the Cowboys honored their 1992 team at halftime, so Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and friends were here for this game, too.

The game ended with Romo taking a knee, then going off toward the Green Bay sideline to shake hands with his fellow quarterback. He found Rodgers -- but not the guy he really wanted to see.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.

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