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Jessica a No-Show for Romo?

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JENNA FRYER | December 23, 2007 12:23 AM EST | AP

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Somewhere, Jessica Simpson was cheering on her man.

The starlet may have been in the stadium Saturday night rooting on Dallas quarterback Tony Romo.

Or she may have been hundreds of miles away from her new boyfriend.

Either way, it didn't affect Romo's play.

Romo bounced back from the worst statistical performance of his career _ which Dallas fans blamed on Simpson's attendance at his last game _ by throwing for 257 yards and a touchdown while leading the Cowboys to a 20-13 win over the Carolina Panthers.

He said after that his pop star girlfriend was in attendance, then played it coy when pressed for her location.

"I don't talk about my personal life," he said.

Unlike last week, when she cheered him on from a luxury box clad in a pink No. 9 jersey, Simpson was never spotted at this game. And even if she was here, he never let it bother him.

Instead, he settled back in the pocket and aimed for the blonde hair _ no, he wasn't trying to pick up another girlfriend, and clearly, these fans with the flowing blonde hair weren't his type.

Romo held steady in the pocket, tossed a sideline hitch to Terrell Owens and watched him sprint 10 yards in for the score.

Nothing was distracting Romo this week. Not the controversy surrounding Simpson's appearance at his last game, not the three portly male Panthers fans wearing long blonde wigs in the end zone and not the smattering of Simpson masks fans waved in the stands.

"I know she saw all of that tonight. She was at the game tonight, so I don't know," he said. "I didn't hear too much stuff about it. I'm not talking about this. Good times, guys."

The controversy surrounding the starlet started last week when Simpson watched Dallas' 10-6 loss to Philadelphia. Cowboys fans immediately linked Romo's clunker of a game to her appearance, and the pop star quickly became persona non grata in Dallas.

Owens playfully joined the bashing a few days later, joking that Simpson should stay away.

"Right now, Jessica Simpson is not a fan favorite _ in this locker room or in Texas Stadium," Owens said.

He backpedaled later that same day, insisting his comments were in jest. But it kicked the drama into overdrive, much to the delight of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

"There's a little part of me that hopes it doesn't go away," Jones said after the game. "It's kind of fun for that kind of bantering to go about. Not at her expense. But I think it's about how popular she is, how pretty she is and her fame.

"But it has never had and won't ever make a difference on how Tony Romo plays."

The fans still think otherwise, and the folks at RuinRomo.com encouraged fans to print a cutout of Simpson and wear it as a mask to distract the quarterback. Only a few were spotted sprinkled through the stands, and the wig-clad trio in the end zone could hardly have been mistaken for Simpson.

Romo had been fully expecting a barrage of the masks, and said in a taped interview on the NFL Network the masks looked nothing like Simpson.

"I'll tell you what, I wouldn't date a girl with those eyes. Her eyes are normally a little better than that," he said holding a mask.

He said the criticism has bothered Simpson, but Romo said he's taking it in stride.

"I don't care how the perception is of me. I know at the end of the day I'm trying to be this type of person, I'm going to try to do things the right way and I'm going to try to do everything I can to help this team win. That's basically the way I live," he said.

"But it hurts me when it hurts people that are close to me. Some of the journalistic integrity this week I thought was a little poor in some ways. But that's part of being in the public eye."

The start had the makings of a rough day, as Romo fumbled the snap on the first play of the game. But chalk that mistake up to personnel, not the bombshell. Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode missed the game because of a knee injury, and Romo had to adjust to grabbing the ball from Cory Procter.

The two had their rhythm set by the second series, a 13-play drive that ended with Owens' touchdown and a 7-0 Dallas lead with 1:30 to play in the first quarter. Romo finished the first quarter a solid 9-of-13 for 79 yards and the score.

He later led the Cowboys on a 75-yard, second-quarter scoring drive that gave them a 14-0 lead. A third quarter interception was his only blemish of the day.

"It's been ridiculous, but fun and certainly I hope it wasn't at her expense because I think she is a very sweet lady," Jones said. "But it certainly didn't affect Romo's play tonight or any other time. That is ridiculous."