Nobody was overly impressed with the Cowboys overtime win over the lowly Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon, but few can doubt how Cowboy quarterback Tony Romo took the game in his hands in the second half and brought the team back for a much-needed win.
Romo has always been a very polarizing quarterback. As I have written before, his tendency to force the big play has resulted in a litany of turnovers and mistakes in key moments of games. But flip the coin to the other side and you see a quarterback who knows it is basically all on him to win games for the Cowboys. The defense doesn’t force turnovers, the run game is practically non-existent and the offensive line is one of the most atrocious in all of the NFL. So that leaves the undrafted quarterback from Eastern Illinois as the hero or goat of every single game– at least from the perspective of the fans. Romo’s stat line this year is far from his usual consistency, 13 interceptions through seven games was an unflattering number and led many to believe that he was regressing as a quarterback. But since “Romovember” has come around, he has performed his best three-game stretch of the season.
In those last three games, he has 120 straight pass attempts without an interception –and only one or two throws I can remember that were even close–and only one turnover, a fumble forced by Cleveland on Sunday, but that was more due to the fact that Romo was running for his life because protection in the offensive line had broken down again. Should he have tucked the ball away instead of leaving it dangling like a piece of meat to a hungry dog? Sure, but he should not be faulted for that one mistake considering how his play has vaulted Dallas back from the cellar of the division to only a half-game behind the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. If fans are going to still insist that he will choke when it matters, understand that nine of his 13 interceptions on the year came in two games. Five against the Bears and four against the Giants and because each team had an early sizable lead on the Cowboys, they had to throw the ball more than I am sure most fans would have liked. Take away those two games, and he has 13 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Of course that is purely hypothetical, and it isn’t like I am pretending that every interception wasn’t his fault, but fans tend to jump the gun on the Romo hate-train no matter how much the numbers say otherwise.
In the first half of Sundays game, the Cowboys had amassed only 68 total yards and were shut out in the first half for the first time this season. The offensive line allowed three sacks and Romo could not get into a rhythm. I was at the game and after the ball was snapped, he took his three or five step-drop and the Browns were in his face, it was one of the worst line performances I had ever witnessed in person. Come second half, however, it seemed that Romo expected protection to break down on every play and was prepared to do what he did best under pressure: scramble out of the pocket and make a play, and boy did he do that. Romo was 9 for 9 for 97 yards in the third quarter and as soon as the fourth started, he arched a gorgeous throw over three defenders to Dez Bryant for a touchdown that cut the deficit to three. It was the kind of play that had been missing for a lot of the season for Romo, as he just hasn’t had the same touch on his deep routes that fans have seen in recent years. A lot of that stems from not getting a chance to get comfortable in the pocket, but even the most hardcore Romomaniacs could see that the quarterback just didn’t have the confidence early in the season.
The key for his recent resurgence has been Jason Garrett basically giving him more flexibility in the offense. In an offensive huddle, you call two plays: the primary one and the backup one if you don’t like the look the defense gives you. Both of these could be pass plays, one play-action or one shotgun, or they could be two run plays or a reverse..etc.etc. The point is, a quarterback always has the freedom to audible at the line, and Romo has been doing that a lot lately. Whenever you hear him yell “kill! kill! kill!” at the line, it means he is changing the play to the second read, and then tapping his leg to call for a different route for the wide receiver. That shows me that he does not have confidence in head coach and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett ,and obviously the Cowboy quarterback feels that when he has more control over the offense, better things happen–it is hard to fault him. The Cowboys barely ran the ball in overtime, which led me to believe that Garrett understood how it was up to Romo to win or lose the game.
Romo is at his best when improvising and making something out of nothing, when he does his magician-esque escapes in the pocket, evading oncoming defenders, he is doing something that only a select few quarterbacks in the NFL can do effectively, and he is doing it behind a patchwork offensive line. Rip him if you want, criticize his ability to “not be able to win the big game” and tell people how he “chokes when it counts,” but real Cowboy fans know that he is the best quarterback to wear the silver and blue since Troy Aikman and it is because of him that Dallas has a chance to win games.
At 5-5, the Cowboys have a realistic chance to challenge for the division and a playoff spot that seemed so unattainable weeks ago.
But their ultimate fate lies solely in the right arm of Tony Romo.