Just when he had Dallas in position to finish a rally and beat Cleveland, Romo lost a fumble that left the Cowboys scrambling to survive a wild ending Sunday in the first overtime game at Cowboys Stadium.
Dallas did find a way to extend the Browns' road losing streak to 12 games when Dan Bailey kicked a 38-yard field goal with 6:07 left in the extra period, giving the Cowboys a 23-20 victory. Bailey also made a tying kick with 2 seconds remaining in regulation.
"Had it all the way," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, smiling, as he walked into the postgame locker room.
Not quite, but it looked that way late in the fourth quarter when Romo had just put the Cowboys ahead 17-13 with a 28-yard scoring pass to Dez Bryant, who had a career-high 145 yards receiving. Anthony Spencer sacked Browns rookie Brandon Weeden on the next drive, forced a fumble and recovered it at the Cleveland 18 with 5:45 remaining.
Romo gave it right back, though, fumbling two plays later -- his first turnover in three games -- as he was hit by Frostee Rucker while trying to avoid the sixth Cleveland sack. Dallas' offensive line didn't have left tackle Tyron Smith for most of the game because of an ankle injury.
"I obviously need to hold onto the ball and not let the guy come from behind and let the ball come out," Romo said. "That could have been a big one."
The Cowboys made one goal-line stand in the final minutes, but the Browns (2-8) got another chance and went ahead 20-17 on Weeden's 17-yard pass to Benjamin Watson with 1:07 remaining.
Dallas drove to the Cleveland 9 in the dying seconds, keyed by a 35-yard pass interference penalty on Sheldon Brown. The Cowboys tried to throw into the end zone twice, then settled for Bailey's tying kick.
Dallas won for the first time in six games when Romo is sacked at least five times. Despite the constant pressure, he still finished 35 of 50 for 313 yards with the touchdown to Bryant, who had 12 catches for a career-high 145 yards.
"Tony did a really good job of playing with poise," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "When you play quarterback and you have a lot of negative plays ... it's easy to kind of get out of yourself and do some things you shouldn't be doing."
Referee Ed Hochuli carried on a running commentary in explaining replays and other rulings on the huge video board, and the most critical came in overtime when the officials ruled an incompletion on a throw that Miles Austin dropped.
The Cowboys were in position for a winning field goal, and replays appeared to show Austin had possession and took two steps before the ball was knocked out. The Browns recovered the loose ball, and called timeout to allow more time for a review. Hochuli announced that the play wasn't reviewable, although that was one time he didn't explain his reasoning; it wasn't reviewable because a whistle had blown the play dead.
"I pretty much knew by the way they called it that it was not reviewable," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "But I wanted to make sure they had time to get it all right."
Cleveland looked like the winner at halftime, leading 13-0 while Romo was running for cover and the crowd was booing repeatedly. But Dallas scored on its first three possessions of the second half, capped by Romo's toss to Bryant.
After Weeden and Romo traded fumbles, Weeden took the Browns to the Dallas 1, but bruising running back Trent Richardson was stuffed on third down and Weeden threw incomplete with 1:42 remaining.
The Browns weren't finished, though. They used all three timeouts and forced a Dallas punt. The Cowboys' John Phillips was penalized for a horse collar tackle on Joshua Cribbs, even though replay showed Phillips grabbing Cribbs' hanging dreadlocks rather than his jersey. With the ball at the 17, Weeden found Watson in the middle of the end zone on the next play, just as he did on a 10-yard play for the game's first score.
The Cowboys had finally scored on a 44-yard field goal with 5:44 remaining in third quarter, then abandoned an ineffective running game. Romo completed passes on the first seven plays, including a 30-yarder to Bryant, before Felix Jones went the final 2 yards on the ground to get Dallas within 13-10 early in the fourth quarter.
Dallas got the ball back quickly when safety Gerald Sensabaugh stuffed Richardson a yard short of a first down in the open field, and the subsequent drive to Bryant's touchdown included two of seven penalties on Cleveland's secondary. There were also two defensive penalties on Dallas' tying drive in regulation, and the Browns had 12 penalties for 129 yards overall.
"What are you supposed to do when a receiver is pushing you?" said Browns safety T.J. Ward. "I felt like we were playing one-handed out there."
Richardson fell just short of becoming the first Browns rookie with three straight 100-yard games. He finished with 95 yards rushing, and added 49 yards receiving.
Weeden was 20 of 35 for 210 yards with the two scores to Watson, who had four catches for 47 yards.