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DALLAS QB COMFY WITH STARRING ROLE

The distractions from the T.O. Show are long gone. That means the spotlight in Dallas is shining directly on quarterback Tony Romo, who shoulders the burden this season of leading the Cowboys back into the playoffs.

Of course, Romo seems unfazed by the pressures that come with being the starting quarterback for America's Team - a role he has played since replacing Drew Bledsoe for then-coach Bill Parcells with 10 games left in the 2006 season.

"It's the same. I think anytime (you're) a quarterback for a team, there's going to be pressure to perform," he said in a conference call Wednesday. "There's going to be scrutiny from outsiders and criticism from outside and from within in some ways. And I think you just need to have a strong mental approach. You need to keep grinding away, keep getting better every year, every game, every day.

"Really, that's all you can do. You can't hang your hat on what people say or think, just because you'll drive yourself nuts with all the emotional swings that can happen."

Romo made his initial splash with a 6-4 mark in 2006 and a Pro Bowl spot, while making headlines for dating pop star Jessica Simpson. He finished his first full season as starter in 2007 by setting a handful of club records on a team of storied quarterbacks, including Don Meredith, Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. He set records for completions (335), yards (4,211) and touchdowns (36) while leading the Cowboys to a franchise-tying mark of 13-3.

But there have been downers as well. Like botching the hold on a short field goal that cost the Cowboys an NFC wild-card win in the 2006-07 campaign. Like a quick exit from the playoffs a year later with a 21-17 loss to the Giants in the division round despite owning the NFC's No. 1 seed. Like last season's disappointing third-place finish in the NFC East.

Romo, however, doesn't dwell on the past. He comes to town with a new No. 1 receiver (Roy Williams, acquired last year from Detroit), old favorite tight end target Jason Witten, a big offensive line and two talented running backs in Marion Barber and Felix Jones.

And what about the departure of oft-disruptive Terrell Owens, who complained last year that Romo favored pal Witten?

"Obviously I wish him well - this is just about our team this year," said Romo, 29, in his seventh season out of Eastern Illinois. "It's not about anything that's happened in the past. We're just trying to put a good ballclub out there and trying to get better."

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