Admit it. You knew it was coming. Everybody in Dallas did. Everybody everywhere did. As the score got higher, the game got wilder, and more people started flipping their TV over to the game, everyone had the same thought going through their head: When is Tony Romo going to blow it?
He was brilliant against the high-flying Denver Broncos on Sunday, at least as good as Peyton Manning who right now is the best there is. He completed 25 of 36 passes for a ridiculous 506 yards and threw five touchdown passes. He was having what might have been the finest game of his 11-year career.
Then, on his final pass of the game, right at the two-minute warning, he ignored an open running back DeMarco Murray underneath and tried to squeeze a tight pass into tight end Gavin Escobar deep in his own territory. It was, of course, picked off by Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan, giving the Broncos the ball and the time to set up the game-winning field goal in a 51-48 win.
In a game where Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said, “Tony played as good a football game as I've ever seen him play,” everyone knew it was bound to happen. That’s the way it us with Romo. Everyone just sits back and waits for him to fail.
And really, that’s just unfair.
Romo has been a terrific quarterback for the Cowboys, better than they ever should’ve expected from an unheralded, undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois in 2003. He wasn’t brought in to be the next great quarterback of “America’s Team.” But that’s exactly what he became.
Tony Romo's numbers, through his first 98 starts, absolutely blow away Troy Aikman's stats.
To say he chokes — or that he choked in that game against the Broncos — is a terrible label. Sometimes things happen, even to the greatest quarterbacks in the game.
“You know, those plays happen in split seconds,” Garrett said. “And you saw something that he liked. He cut it loose. Their defender made a good play. It was a difference-making play of the game.”
It only seems like Romo is on the wrong end of those difference-making plays far too often. But the truth is, without him, the Cowboys of the last decade wouldn’t have been in very many big games.
In other words, Romo hasn’t been the complete failure that some make him out to be. In fact, when you compare him to the Dallas Cowboys’ last great quarterback – Hall of Famer Troy Aikman – Romo’s numbers absolutely blow his away. Granted, it’s a different era now and the passing game has exploded since Aikman’s day. But the numbers are startling nonetheless.
Through 98 starts, Aikman (1989-95) completed 62.8% of his passes for 16,607 yards, 98 touchdowns and 85 interceptions. Romo, in that span, has completed 65.2% of his passes for 26,998 yards, 187 touchdowns and 90 interceptions. Aikman had a passer rating of 81.6 and was only over 90 in two seasons. Romo is at 96.6 and has never been below 91.4.
Aikman won more (60 to 57). And he also had an enormous advantage in the postseason. Aikman was 10-1 in the playoffs in those years and led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles. Romo has been to the playoffs just three times with a record of 1-3.
Of course, Aikman had the benefit of Emmitt Smith in his backfield. Romo has only had a Top 10 rushing attack once. And Aikman played with defenses that were better, and ranked higher too. Also, it should be noted, that Aikman was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft while Romo was an undrafted free agent.
So the fact that Romo has accomplished as much as he has isn’t bad.
But there’s a truth about quarterbacking that Peyton Manning once learned and so did his little brother, Eli, and so has Drew Brees and Joe Flacco and many, many others before them. Quarterbacks, as former Giants GM Ernie Accorsi once said, are judged by only one criteria: “Can they take their team down the field, with the championship on the line, and into the end zone?”
In other words, can they perform when it really counts?
Romo has had plenty of terrific moments in his career. He’s made plenty of big passes in big spots and seized his share of big games. But in the biggest games, with the eyes of the world upon him, with playoff berths or playoff games on the line, there’s just something about him that seems to make him constantly fall short.
So for now he falls to a place where the Mannings and Flacco and Brees and so many others once resided: To the dark hole of great quarterbacks not great enough to win the big one. And no matter what he does in his career, the truth of the matter is that his reputation isn’t going to change until he finally does.
— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN