Dallas Cowboys star quarterback Tony Romo will miss the team's biggest National Football League game of the season after undergoing back surgery Friday following a herniated disk.
Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo scrambles with the ball in the second half during an NFL game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 22, 2013 in Landover, Maryland
The Cowboys will play host to Philadelphia in Sunday's final game of the NFL regular season to decide the NFC East division champion and a playoff berth. The loser will miss the playoffs.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Romo was crushed at missing the decisive showdown after leading the Cowboys to this point for the past four months.
"He's devastated," Garrett said. "He puts a lot into this."
Romo, who suffered the injury last week in a victory over Washington, will need at least three months to recover, leaving backup Kyle Orton to lead the Cowboys into their biggest game of the year and in the playoffs if needed.
"We spent the week exhausting all options in regards to Tony’s situation – treatment, rehab, all the different things, consulted a lot of different people on this," Garrett said.
"We just felt like as we discussed it that this was the best decision for him and for our organization moving forward. Doing it sooner rather than later was important.
"We felt like the surgery went well and Tony should be able to come home and start to begin his rehabilitation for the 2014 season."
Romo, 33, threw for 3,828 yards and 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games this season for Dallas, which signed Jon Kitna to serve as a backup to Orton on Sunday.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the team hoped Romo would respond to painkillers and be well enough to face the Eagles but it was apparent by Thursday that would not be the case.
"It was not responding so he could be as comfortable as he needed to be and function to play," Jones said. "We were advised by many people that the quicker you could relieve any type of those symptoms, the better off he was in his long-term recovery."
Romo guided the Cowboys on a nine-play, 87-yard drive for the winning touchdown last week against Washington and threw the winning touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray despite his ruptured disk.
"Tony might have had his finest hour against the Redskins last week," Garrett said.
Since Romo's first NFL start, the Cowboys are 63-45 with him and 6-7 without him.
This will mark the third season in a row that the Cowboys will face a season finale in which the winner reaches the playoffs as division champion and the loser misses the playoffs. Dallas previously lost to Washington last year and the New York Giants in 2011.
Orton will make his first start since joining the Cowboys last season, taking over an attack that was designed around Romo's skills.
"It will be very, very good in my mind," Jones said. "The good thing about Orton is he understands this philosophy and what's expected from it. He can read it well. He has got a strong arm and a lot of experience."