Cowboys '09: It Starts and Ends With Romo

How many questions have we beaten to death pertaining to the Cowboys’ upcoming season? Can Roy Williams be a lead receiver? Will Gerald Sensabaugh’s presence be enough to get the defense over the hump? How much will the loss of Terrell Owens hurt the offense? Will Jason Garrett recover from his sophomore slump? Is Mike Jenkins ready for prime time? Does Flozell Adams have enough left in the tank? Will Miles Austin blossom? While all of these questions are valid and relevant, most of these points will be nullified, for better or worse by the play of one Antonio Ramiro Romo.

Midway through Tony Romo’s first NFL start against Carolina in 2006, I remember saying to myself "this guy is going to win multiple Super Bowls." I still believe this to be true. I have always been a guy who was quick to defend Romo. I still think that he will eventually settle into the top tier of NFL quarterbacks, but given the way he played down the stretch, I am a little more receptive to the arguments of Romo’s doubters. Still, in a league where quarterback play is paramount, I am thankful that the Dallas Cowboys are not among those searching for answers at the position.

I can’t imagine being the Minnesota Vikings, having all the makings of a championship team, yet still desperate enough to consider climbing into bed with Brett Favre. Perhaps even more frightening, put yourself in the shoes of the Detroit Lions, mortgaging the next half-decade on the hope that a rookie quarterback will become a star. There are not enough quality quarterbacks to go around, and the Dallas Cowboys most certainly have one of the keepers.

In roughly two and a half seasons as a starter, Tony Romo has to his discredit two playoff loses and total failure in a do-or-die regular season finale. Thank goodness the Indianapolis Colts didn’t declare Peyton Manning a failure after his first few late-season disappointments. Peyton Manning lost his first 4 playoff contests, turning in shameful performances in each game. In his first 4 playoff games, Peyton Manning completed just over 48 percent of his passes, connecting on just 2 touchdowns while throwing 6 interceptions. Romo on the other hand has been at least serviceable in his 2 career playoff starts, with his only interception coming on a last-second, desperation heave against the Giants in the 2007 divisional round.

Anybody trying to kick-start the Stephen McGee hype machine may be jumping the gun a bit. Still, you can’t say that it is unfair to question Romo’s big-game mettle. The numbers don’t lie. December 2006, Romo threw 6 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. December 2007: 3 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. December 2008: 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. The Dallas Cowboys are 5-10 in games played after December 1st with Tony Romo at the helm. Keep in mind that the Cowboys have been performing an annual December nosedive for about a decade running, with or without Romo. Still, the truly great quarterbacks find a way to lead their teammates out of the dark. The great ones defy curses, and trends. The great ones just find a way to win at all costs. I am holding out hope that Romo is one of the great ones.

The common belief is that Terrell Owens was in part released to ease Tony Romo’s mind. Ironically, Romo faces more pressure than ever in Owens’ absence. Tony Romo apologists have long cited Owens’ overbearing, demanding personality as a hindrance to the quarterback's ability to relax and work through his progressions. With Owens’ neediness no longer an issue, it will be tougher to find legitimate excuses when Romo struggles. This season Romo will have at his disposal a solid offensive line, a good group of receivers, and possibly the league’s best collection of talent at both tight end and running back. Romo should also be supported by stronger defensive and special teams units. The table is set for Tony Romo to take the next step, now it is on him to put it all together.

I still think that Tony Romo can and will become one of the league’s truly elite quarterbacks. With that said, we can no longer brush away the questions about Romo’s ability to get it done in a big spot. One thing is for sure, a playoff win would go along way towards killing this debate.

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