The Dallas Cowboys are running out of chances to stay in contention without Tony Romo, and owner Jerry Jones is running out of optimism.
"To be realistic, it's going to be a daunting task, even with Romo, to get our feet back under us," Jones said after the fifth straight loss without his star quarterback, 13-12 to Seattle on Sunday. "Obviously, we think we'll play better when we get Romo back."
The problem is, the games might not matter much if Dallas doesn't win now.
Even executive vice president Stephen Jones acknowledged not long after Romo broke his left collarbone in Week 2 that the Cowboys would have difficulty defending their NFC East title if they went "oh-fer" in seven games without Romo.
Dallas (2-5) is down to just two more chances for the elusive win and could really use both, starting Sunday night with division rival Philadelphia and DeMarco Murray. The 2014 NFL rushing champion who left the Cowboys for the Eagles (3-4) in free agency plays on his old home field for the first time. Then it's a visit to Tampa Bay.
If they don't beat Philadelphia, the Cowboys' skid will reach six games. It would be their longest losing streak since the 1-15 debacle of 1989, the year Jerry Jones bought the team. But one thing Dallas does have going for it: the other three NFC East teams have four losses.
"Within our division, you have to realize that there is hope," said Matt Cassel, who has lost two games filling in for Romo after Brandon Weeden lost the first three starts following the injury.
"There are nine games left, and guys have to realize that and have to understand that you have to come out and continue to compete."
The only time the Cowboys didn't really have a shot to win was a blowout by undefeated New England. Otherwise, they've had second-half leads in all four games -- and critical letdowns at key points from all three phases of the game.
Against Seattle, Dallas was held without a touchdown for the second time in three games after going four years without that happening under Romo.
Even when Greg Hardy's interception of Russell Wilson gave the Cowboys the ball at the Seattle 16 in the fourth quarter, they had to settle for a field goal and a 12-10 lead.
After David Irving blocked a potential go-ahead field goal, the Dallas offense failed again to move the ball. Seattle took the second chance and drove for the winning points.
"You need to take the ball away, you need to secure the ball, you need to make some big plays and do some things that change the game," said Jason Garrett, whose longest losing streak in five years as coach was two games before this season. "And the best teams do that. When we played our best football, we've been able to do that."
And they haven't in the current skid. A defensive breakdown led to the winning touchdown on the second play of overtime for New Orleans. The New York Giants had a decisive kickoff return after Cassel led a tying drive in the fourth quarter.
It didn't even help to get Dez Bryant back after missing five games with a broken right foot. He had two catches for 12 yards, and Garrett said Bryant's foot came out OK after the All-Pro receiver played 48 of 59 snaps.
"It was good to have him back on the field," said Cassel, who targeted Bryant six times, tops among Dallas receivers. "I have to do a better job of getting him the ball and letting him do what he does best, which is make plays."
Dallas' previous win came against the Eagles, but it was costly because of Romo's injury. Seven weeks later, the team's postseason hopes could ride on the rematch.
"The urgency has always been at a high level," tight end Jason Witten said. "There's not a hidden secret to winning in this league."
NOTES: Garrett said RB Joseph Randle was still away from the team dealing with personal issues. Randle started the first six games at running back before injuring his back against the Giants. He was ruled out last week because of the injury.