IRVING, Texas (AP) _ The last time Drew Bledsoe lost his job, it also was to an unproven quarterback. It worked out pretty well for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
The Dallas Cowboys hope Tony Romo provides the same kind of boost.
Brady replaced Bledsoe early in the 2001 season after a hit put Bledsoe in intensive care for a few days. He never got his job back, because Brady, then in his second season out of Michigan, ran the offense so well. The Patriots won the Super Bowl that season and two of the next three.
This time, Bledsoe is getting benched because coach Bill Parcells has lost confidence in him after poor performances.
Romo will make his first start since the 2002 Division I-AA playoffs Sunday night, when the Cowboys visit the Carolina Panthers. After watching the first 52 games of his NFL career, then coming off the bench in the last two, he's ready to be the main man.
``I've always prepared like I was going to play each week,'' Romo said. ``You know, there's more sense of urgency and, in that respect, you're going to want to be perfect with everything throughout the week. It's not always going to be, but you want things to go smooth.''
The Tony Romo Project began in 2003, the same season Parcells arrived in Dallas.
The I-AA player of the year at Eastern Illinois, Romo went undrafted. Several teams tried signing him, but he picked the Cowboys because of Parcells and a depth chart that featured only Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson. He made the club as the No. 3 quarterback, and the waiting game began.
Romo has watched all sorts of QBs come and go, from has-beens like Vinny Testaverde to never-weres like Hutchinson and Drew Henson. Now, Romo finally has made it to the top _ Dallas' ninth starting quarterback since Troy Aikman.
Romo downplays his long, slow rise, saying the only thing that matters is ``what do you do when you get there.
``If you don't perform, you get thrown aside like anybody else,'' he said.
Dallas is 3-3, with plenty of time to make a run at the playoffs. Teammates are upbeat about their chances with Romo in charge, either because they're eager to see what he can do or because they were frustrated with Bledsoe. Among the supporters is Terrell Owens, who could become the biggest beneficiary.
Bledsoe and T.O. never had the bond that Bledsoe had with Terry Glenn. Romo already has thrown two touchdowns to Owens and likely will keep looking for No. 81.
``I welcome that,'' Owens said. ``That's all I've ever wanted, just a guy to stand back there and know that I'm a playmaker. Give me an opportunity to make plays.''
Because Romo has seen firsthand that being the Cowboys' starting quarterback can be a temporary assignment, he seems determined to enjoy his turn.
During his first media session since the promotion, Romo said with a straight face that his favorite target is Oliver Hoyte, a linebacker who was converted to fullback last week.
``He's doing some good things in the passing game,'' Romo said, finally cracking a smile.
Parcells had told reporters that Romo reminded him of other quarterbacks, but the coach declined to name them. When Romo was asked for those names, he said, ``He started off with John Elway,'' flashing another smile.
Confidence is Romo's strong suit. After Bledsoe struggled in the opener and fans already were clamoring for a change, Romo _ who'd yet to throw a pass _ described the budding controversy as inevitable ``any time you have a couple of quality players at a position.''
Confident or not, he'll have to protect the ball.
Romo threw three interceptions in his two quarters against the New York Giants on Monday night, when a five-point halftime deficit became a 36-22 loss. Turnovers were Bledsoe's undoing, and they'll do the same to Romo unless he's smarter with the ball.
Between his confidence and his scrambling abilities, Romo believes he can make any throw. It's a Brett Favre-esque mentality you might expect from a native of Burlington, Wis., and something he knows he must control.
He said so to the boss, telling Jerry Jones, ``You've seen the last of what you saw out there tonight.''
``I like that resolve,'' Jones said.
Jones gave Romo a $2 million bonus in August as part of a contract through 2007. Now Romo has 10 games to prove whether he deserves to be the starter next season.
``No one in this locker room thinks about it like that,'' Romo said. ``They think, 'How can we win this game this week? How can we get in a position make a run this year?' ... We've got a lot of games left. A tough road, but we're going to be all right.''
Tom Brady couldn't have said it better.