There is absolutely no point in trying to build up any suspense about who gets the award this week. After his tenth fourth quarter comeback and eleventh game winning drive, Tony Romo is the man who has to get the game ball.
On a personal note, I don't know if I can take many more games like the first two of the season. The wild hope and crushing disappointment of the Jets game was wrenching. Watching the early struggles against the 49ers and starting to feel like 2010 was going to repeat itself, then seeing the team fight through the injuries and stage a dramatic comeback was thrilling, exciting, and not necessarily good for my heart.
It was a performance straight out of a movie. The early struggles, the ups and downs, Tony going out, Jon Kitnacoming in to tie the game, then the team falling behind and Tony demanding his helmet, and all the late game heroics. And like a movie, there were some good supporting roles. No one can win a football game by himself, so before I talk about the triumphant return of Antonio Ramiro Romo, I'd like to point out some of the other players that helped make this a much better Monday than it could otherwise have been.
First, a couple of players who looked like they were going to be part of the problem early on, but who came through when it counted. Dan Bailey probably heard the groans across the globe when he missed his first field goal attempt and the Cowboys' opening drive ended with no points. It has been said that you have to have a short memory to succeed as placekicker, and Bailey must qualify, because he nailed a 48-yarder to tie the game and then nailed the chip shot to win. And Alan Ball got abused early on, but it appeared he got a little safety help later in the game and then snagged an interception to help the cause. I mention Alan because he has gotten so much abuse over time, but the man is playing hard, and he did make a key contribution. Here's a little love for him.
Going into the game, one of the stats mentioned was that Alex Smith did not get sacked in the first game of the season. Anthony Spencer, Jason Hatcher (twice), DeMarcus Ware (twice), and Jay Ratliff made sure he didn't carry that stat any longer. DWare is on a tear this year, but the other three were even more encouraging. It looks like the Almost Anthony tag may no longer apply with a sack for Spencer in each game so far, and getting three sacks from the D line points to good things to come.
Speaking of defense, the winner of the first Game Ball this season, Sean Lee, posted eleven tackles, two for losses. Stud status confirmed. Lets see, projecting out that will be about 185 tackles for him, 32 sacks for Ware, 16 each for Spencer and Hatcher . . . OK, they won't likely keep up that pace. But the numbers look good so far.
More direct in their support of Tony were the receivers. Jason Witten quietly was the security blanket, catching 7 balls for 102 yards, including some key catches to keep drives alive. Miles Austin was lights out with 9 catches for 143 yards, 3 touchdowns, and one levitation across the end line. And when his hamstring acted up, Jesse Holley had 3 grabs for 96 yards. Remember, this is a player who had never caught a regular season pass in the NFL before. He celebrated mightily after he channeled his old mentor Michael Irvin for the 77-yard catch that set up the game winning field goal. I think his exuberance is understandable.
And Jon Kitna did get one touchdown up on the scoreboard. He was not great, but he didn't totally collapse, so he gets a minor nod here.
But as important as all those contributions were, none can match what Tony Romo did. It wasn't just the 20/33 passing for 345 yards and two touchdowns, which including sitting out almost the entire third quarter. It was the way he did it. Watching Tony, it was obvious something was wrong in the second quarter when his throws were off and he missed on seven consecutive passes. Perhaps he did not realize how badly he was hurt, but late in the first half he seemed to make adjustments for his own pain and completed a 53-yard TD pass to Austin that grabbed some momentum back from the Niners.
And then it went from gutty to the stuff of legend. Word came that Tony had broken ribs and was out of the game. It would not be until the next day that we would learn that he actually had a punctured lung. Kitna got the ball in the third quarter. For a bit it looked like he might be able to pick the team up, but then he threw his second interception. And there was Tony, demanding his helmet with an expression on his face that told you he was not going to take any argument. Back on the field, he was throwing pinpoint passes, keeping the drives alive, setting up Miles' magic act for the touchdown.
Then came the moment that is stuck in my head. With Austin's hamstring taking him out, there was Tony, nose to nose with Jesse Holley, telling him how the ball was going to come to him, how he was the man that had to pick up the load. Telling him that he could do it. Willing him to succeed. Then going out, driving the team to tie, then hitting Holley exactly where he expected him to be to set up the win.
That's ten fourth quarter comebacks in Romo's career. Ten. One for every six games he has played as a starter. It wasn't that the performance against the 49ers was so amazing. It was that it was so typical for Tony. Yes, he has his bad games and bone-headed mistakes, and fans have every right to criticize them. But much more often in his career, he goes out and wins games that should be lost. And he does so with a courage and determination that should never be questioned again. Performance, yes, you can question. But not the quality of his character. I don't know if Tony is an elite quarterback. I do know he is one magnificent football player.
Tony, this game ball is yours. It is hardly adequate for what you did.