(Reuters) - Tony Romo engineered a stirring second-half comeback to lead the Dallas Cowboys to a nail-biting 24-20 NFC wildcard win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday and a trip back to the divisional round to meet the Green Bay Packers.
With a postseason record of 1-3 and haunted by a reputation as a big-game flop, Romo withstood a ferocious Lions defense, tossing a pair of touchdown passes to Terrance Williams, including an eight-yard strike with 2:32 to remaining to give Dallas their first playoff win since the 2009 season.
“You just have to stay in the moment and understand the game, it doesn’t end after the first quarter or second quarter, it’s a long way to go,” said Romo. “It wasn’t going well...you just have to stay calm, I’ve played enough games to understand that. I think I didn’t do that as well when I was younger.”
After an 11-5 regular season it was more postseason disappointment for the Lions, who have not won a playoff game since January 1992, losing seven wildcard contests.
Romo, sacked six times by Detroit’s top ranked defense, would not be kept down, completing 19 of 31 passes for 293 yards while DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher, ran for 75 yards and a touchdown.
The Lions shocked the home crowd at a packed AT&T Stadium, scoring on their first possession when Matthew Stafford hit Golden Tate with a 51-yard touchdown pass, then followed up with a 14-play, 99-yard drive capped by Reggie Bush scampering into the end zone for a 14-0 lead.
Kept in check by a swarming Detroit defense, the Cowboys finally got the big-play lift they needed when Romo hooked up with Williams with a 76-yard touchdown strike with less than two minutes remaining in the half but the Lions would answer back with 39-yard Matt Prater field goal to take a 17-7 advantage into the intermission.
Stafford was intercepted by Kyle Wilber on the Detroit 19 in the third quarter but Dallas could not convert the turnover when Dan Bailey missed on a 41-yard field goal attempt.
Having dodged a bullet, the Lions answered immediately with a 37-yard Prater field goal but the Cowboys would not throw in the towel.
Trailing 20-7, Dallas turned to their top guns and another big play, Romo finding Dez Bryant for a 43-yard gain and Murray bulling over from the one.
After a 51-yard Bailey field goal, the momentum was squarely in the Cowboys’ corner when Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens was called for pass interference only to have the penalty waved off and end a Lions drive.
“It wasn’t good enough,” said Lions coach Jim Caldwell when asked about the explanation officials gave him for picking up the flag.
That was followed by a Detroit 10-yard punt with Romo taking over and engineering the game-winning drive.
Reporting by Gene Cherry and Steve Keating,; Editing by Peter Rutherford/Gene Cherry