Tony Romo: "We're A Mentally Tough Football Team."

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

The Cowboys have put together a string of games in which they never once held a lead entering the fourth quarter, but came out with an improbable 5-1 record. Tony Romo knows why.

It wasn't too long ago that every time the Cowboys fell behind in a game, Cowboys fans everywhere would get a sinking feeling, as the Cowboys were seldom able to recover from those deficits.

That has changed this season. Over the last six games, the Cowboys never once held the lead going into the fourth quarter: They were tied with the Eagles (Dec. 2) and the Steelers heading into the fourth quarter, but were behind in the other four games. Yet they still managed a 5-1 record. That's quite a remarkable achievement.

A look at the total league numbers through Week 15 this year shows just how remarkable of an achievement that is, as the odds were stacked against the Cowboys: 78% of the teams with a lead after the third quarter ended up winning that game this season. Here are the winning percentages of teams that held the lead at the end of each respective quarter so far this season:

NFL winning probability when in the lead, by quarter, through 2012
1. Quarter 2. Quarter 3. Quarter
W/L 110-55 139-55
152-41
in % 66% 72% 78%

The statistically inclined will be wary of sample size effects and may not read too much into the Cowboys' fourth quarter performance. After all, in the earlier part of the season, the Cowboys played in four games in which they didn't have the lead and lost all four of them. For the season so far, that then evens out to a 5-5 record in games where the Cowboys didn't have a lead entering the fourth quarter. Still better than the league average, but not by that much anymore.

But the Cowboys' reversal of fortunes could also be more than just a temporary spike in the statistics: Over the last six games, the Cowboys have outscored opponents by 55 points in the fourth quarter, easily the best value in the league. Here's a look at the top five teams in that category over the last six games:

4th Quarter Scoring Differential, Games 9-14, 2012
Team Points For Points Against Differential
Dallas 94 39 +55
New England 85 44 +41
Atlanta 50 23 +27
Seattle 41 20 +21
Cincinnati 37 17 +20

Tony Romo, who has been instrumental in getting the Cowboys back in every one of the last six games, is convinced that the recent turnaround is more than just a statistical fluke, and said yesterday that as long as the Cowboys keep things close entering the final quarter they have a shot at winning:

“Really, it’s just we’ve gotten to a point where we’re a mentally tough football team,” the Cowboys quarterback said during a conference call with New Orleans reporters. “In saying that, I believe when I step on the field in the fourth quarter, if we’re within 10-14 points, we’re going to find a way to win the ballgame.

“And we’ve been down, I don’t know, five times, six times this year and we’ve consistently come back and put ourselves in position. We’ve had a couple other ones where we could have come back in eight or nine of them, really. That’s just our mentality of what our football team believes late in football games. And that’s helped us.”

Call it a result of "The Process", call it a winning mentality, call it a statistical fluke, in fact, call it anything you want. As long as the Cowboys keep winning, we'll be cool with it.

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