Often it seems when the Cowboys need a day of reckoning, they find one against the Giants. Because of the two teams' successes in recent years, this division rivalry has been as intense as ever. And for Tony Romo, the games against New York have been pivotal.
We all remember Week 7 in the 2006 season when Bill Parcells made the halftime call to have Tony Romo replace incumbent starter Drew Bledsoe. It was the kid's first real action in a game that mattered. He started off shaky with a pick right out of the gates, but then settled in to provide the team the mobility at the position Bledsoe didn't have. The Giants won big 36-22; however, Romo showed enough leadership, moxie, and arm strength to make starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys his regular gig.
Later in Week 13, the sparkle of hope for #9 shined brighter. In New York with the score tied at 20, exactly a minute left on the clock, Dallas on its own 32. Empty backfield, five wide. The Giants rushed just three, yet the pocket began to collapse within seconds. Although right-handed, Romo rolled to his left and then launched a perfect strike over two Giants' defenders into the hands of Jason Witten. The play put Dallas in range for Martin Gramatica's 46-yard game-winning field goal.
Since that '06 season, the Cowboys and Giants have been exchanging blows like two heavyweight contenders. The '07 season got all our hopes high as the Cowboys and Tony Romo dominated their schedule to the tune of 13-3, earning a first-round bye in the playoffs. Although they swept the Giants during the regular season, they couldn't pull off the hat trick to advance.
HOW ROMO & THE COWBOYS HAVE FARED VS. THE GIANTS
Week 7 - (L 22-36) 14 of 25 for 247 with 2 TDs and 3 INTs*
Week 13 - (W 23-20) 20 of 34 for 257 with 0 TDs and 2 INTs
*Started just second half.
Week 1 - (W 45-35) 15 of 24 for 345 with 4 TDs, 1 Rushing TD and 1 INT
Week 10 - (W 31-20) 20 of 28 for 247 with 4 TDs and 1 INT, plus 1 Fumble
Divisional Round - (L 17-21) 18 of 36 for 201 with 1 TD and 1 INT
Week 9 (L 14-35) - Romo DNP*
Week 15 (W 20-8) - 20 of 30 for 244 with 2 TDs and 0 INTs, plus 1 Fumble Lost
Week 2 (L 31-33) - 13 of 29 for 127 with 1 TD , 1 Rushing TD and 3 INTs
Week 13 (L24-31) - 41 of 55 for 392 with 3 TDs and 0 INTs
We know the problems Dallas faces this season extend far beyond Romo--a list dominated by penalties, lack of protection, and special teams and defensive breakdowns. But the bouncing balls that have led to interceptions have some pundits pointing fingers at Romo. (This same article also notes how Sports Illustrated's latest player poll ranks Romo as the #2 overrated player in the league.)
After committing 21 turnovers, including 14 interceptions, over 13 games in 2008, Romo stressed ball security last season and had only 13 turnovers, including just nine interceptions, over 16 games.
With seven interceptions through just five games this season, including five over the last two outings, a case can be made that Romo is again careless with the ball.
Reflecting on last season's home opening loss to the Giants, that three interception performance by Romo, who finished with a 29.6 passer rating, humbled the quarterback.
"I'm sorry that I wasn't able to play up to the level the rest of the other guys did," Romo said. "I have to get better at the mistakes I made and I will."
Whether that was a promise or not, his play from that point on resulted in relatively mistake-free football. For the rest of the regular season, he accounted for just 10 more turnovers (6 INTs and 4 Fumbles Lost). And look what he did to the Giants in the last go around! Surely, we don't want Romo throwing the ball 55 times again, but that marked his first game versus the Giants in which he did not commit a turnover. The Cowboys lost that game because of defensive (Brandon Jacobs' 74-yard TD catch and run) and special teams (Dominek Hixon's 79-yard 4th-quarter punt return for a TD) breakdowns. Go figure.
I recall Trent Dilfer's post-game comments after the Week 5 loss to the Titans. During the Romo-bashing from the rest of the ESPN panelists, Dilfer offered a constructive defense of the Cowboys quarterback. Being a former quarterback, perhaps he realizes that Romo's 3 INTs were not as against him as the stat sheets show: two being tipped passes and the last an end-of-game desperation heave. To paraphrase Dilfer, he stated that if there is one thing Romo can improve on it's that he has to figure out "how to stop the bleeding".
While Dilfer makes a strong point, the "bleeding" has now become more of a team thing for the Cowboys, as we witnessed Sunday in Minnesota. Romo can, of course, continue to do his part the best he can in regards to ball security. The team as a whole has yet to fumble (everybody knock on wood). As for Romo's 7 INTs, either he can do a better job in deciding whether that throwing window is too tight, or the receivers need to stop bumping and setting for the defensive spikes.
After just five games, Romo averages 313.2 yards per game for a decent 93.6 QB rating. The scary thing for opponents is his 69.4 completion percentage. The scary thing for the Cowboys is that some of these yards Romo has racked up has been to compensate for those lost by penalties. The scary thing for us here on BTB and for every Cowboys fan in the world is that Romo's 10 TDs, including 3 last week, have led to just a single victory.
Romo's starting record versus the Giants is 4-3. During this span we have seen the Cowboys win games in which Romo did not have a statistically pleasing day. We have seen Romo play an outstanding game only to see the team lose. After Week 2's growing pains last season, Romo showed us that he is not willing to allow the team to lose because of him.
On Monday Night Football, the Cowboys are faced with a pivotal matchup. A loss not only sticks them at 1-5, but also 0-2 in the division, 0-5 in the conference. A win would give a breath of hope to the standings. Hopefully, it will spark more than that.
Escaping with a win is one thing, but stopping the bleeding is another. Romo can only do so much. If, at the end of a tight game, he hits Witten like he did in '06, will Buehler be able to knock it through for the victory? Will this 2010 version of the defense and special teams remember how to correct last season's Week 13 loss? They've faced the same experiences this year and failed.
A ton of questions surround a 1-4 team with such high expectations. This week, it's home against the Giants. No better time to turn the season around than now.