To play or not to play?

To play or not to play?

IRVING, Tex. - No player in the NFL has gotten more scrutiny this week than Dallas quarterback Tony Romo.

A week after being blasted for a pair of turnovers that essentially cost his team the season opener against the New York Jets, Romo earned hero status after coming back into Sunday's game with a broken rib and a punctured rib and led his team back to tie — and ultimately defeat — the San Francisco 49ers.

The same player who was being dubbed a choke artist was being called tough, courageous, a warrior, a leader … after one week?

The fact is Romo is all of those things. Has he made some very public errors? Sure — every athlete has. His are magnified because he generally has 70,000-80,000 observers watching him do his job in person, and millions more critiquing his work from their coaches and from stools in sports bars. Such is life as the quarterback of the Cowboys.

Dallas head coach Jason Garrett has shown that he is experienced beyond his years … at least when it comes to talking to the media without saying anything. With less than a year of head coaching experience as a head coach on his résumé, Garrett can dodge questions like a matador. In his daily press conferences, Garrett has been pummeled with questions about Romo's rib and Romo's lung, whether Romo will practice this week and whether he'll play Monday night against the rival Washington Redskins. Garrett's go-to answer is some version of "like every player, we're going to evaluate his injury day by day and see how he progresses during the week." At one point, Garrett uttered "day by day" so frequently it would be understandable if someone assumed it was a recording playing over and over and over and …

The question is not whether Romo can play — he showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has the grit to huff and puff and wheeze and cough his way through a game, calling out signals when it was painful to breathe and risking getting hit or having defensive linemen fall on him. Regardless of what he does between now and the end of his career, Romo's toughness and willingness to endure pain for his team never can be questioned.

The real question is whether he should play Monday against the hated Redskins … and the answer is a resounding "no."

It's hard to sit down a starter, especially a starting quarterback, when he has the pain tolerance to take the field. It's doubly difficult when the opponent is perhaps the team's most hated rival. But in this case, someone should take Romo's helmet from him and thank him for his willingness to give it a try … and then turn the reins over to backup Jon Kitna.

Does Dallas have a better chance to win with Romo in the lineup? If he's anything close to being 100 percent healthy, yes … although Kitna showed last year that despite his age (he turned 39 Wednesday), he is more than capable of leading the Cowboys' offense.

But is it worth it?

If the Redskins game meant a trip to the playoffs, then of course the best player should play. But Monday's game is just the third of the season for each team. In addition, the Dallas offense will be a patchwork unit. Wide receiver Miles Austin (hamstring) and left guard Derrick Dockery (knee, tibia) are believed to be unlikely to play. Receiver Dez Bryant and running back Felix Jones are question marks. Rookie left guard Bill Nagy, who started the season opener against the Jets but missed Sunday's win in San Francisco with a neck injury, will return to the starting lineup in Dockery's place. So Romo will be protected by a young offensive line that already has gone through changes because of injuries, and will be throwing to a depleted core of receivers, and might not have his top running back.

Can Romo play? Probably. Should he? Absolutely not.

The Redskins could beat Dallas, with or without Romo. But the Cowboys also have every chance to beat Washington, even if Romo joins Austin, Dockery and the other walking wounded on the sideline. After all, Washington is not an NFL powerhouse, despite that sparkling 2-0 record created by an average-at-best Arizona team and a New York Giants team decimated by injuries.

But even if it means losing to the Redskins, Romo should not play. The Cowboys can afford a loss now if it means their offensive leader is healthy for the long term. With Ndamukong Suh and the Detroit Lions coming to Arlington next week and a bye the following week, it might not be a bad idea to let Romo rest for two weeks.

But for now, it just makes sense to sit him against the Redskins.

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