A common faulty assumption that I've seen in the discussions of this team is that, based on their record, this was an average team the last two years. To call the 2011-12 Cowboys an average team is only technically true. It can't be overstated: Take away the passing game in 2011 and 2012, and the teams that the Cowboys put on the field (especially after key injuries on defense) were bad football teams.
ESPN and others have declared that "Romo's" record in win-or-go-home games is 1-6. To accept that this record belongs to the QB as much as (or more than?) it does to the team requires that you assume that all teams are equal except at that one position. Of course, if that were true, then the only players who would ever be drafted or traded would be quarterbacks.
Let's instead call the 1-6 "the Cowboys'" record, and look into what made it -- but from a team perspective, so we can get an idea of how other QB have fared with teams that have performed similar to Romo's. I think something is not quite right about the way four of the games are perceived.
First, the two playoff losses (Giants in 07 and Vikings in 09), and the role of Dallas' defense in those two games.
Since 1960, teams whose defenses allow more than a 125 rating in a playoff game are 0-67. In other words, no matter who your QB was or what he did in the game, when the opposing QB goes over 125.0, you lose. In those games, our defense allowed well over a 125 rating (132.4 and 134.4). The predictable result was two losses.
Romo's numbers in those games (ratings of 64.7 and 66.1), are the kind that Brady and Roethlisberger have won with in the playoffs (they're 6-2 when their own ratings are in the 60's or lower). It's still 6-2 for them and 0-2 for Romo, even though they won because their teams ran the ball well and/or their defense made big plays.
That 0-67 tells us, that, unless he had put up a couple of 125+ ratings himself in those two games, Romo's performance would not have even mattered. Every QB since 1960 who has found himself in that situation in two playoff games is 0-2 -- not just Romo. It happened to Marino three times (0-3). It happened to Elway five times (0-5). It's happened to Romo and Matt Ryan in every year that they've made postseason appearances since their first (0-5).
When all teams are considered equal except for the QB, W-L records like these give the QB the reputation of someone who can't win big games. These were team losses, attributable mostly to the performance of that QB's own pass defense. And Dallas' pass defense has only gotten worse since then.
Which brings us to the week 17 losses the last two seasons. Again, Romo gets the blame for something that no other QB has been able to do. In 2011 and 2012, the Cowboys finished 29th and 25th in defensive passer rating. Those same two years, Dallas also ranked 30th and 27th in rushing TD. Defensive passer rating and touchdowns both have very high correlations to wins, so teams that ranked 25th or worse in consecutive seasons in even one of those categories have historically been bad teams. Teams that ranked 25th or worse in BOTH categories two years in a row have always had losing records. Always, as in, every single time.
Since 2000, there have been 58 teams that ranked 25th or worse in defensive passer rating. Their combined record is 270-607 (.308). There have been 38 teams that ranked 25th or worse in rushing TD, and they combined to go 186-398-1 (.318). Bad teams. And Dallas was 25th or worse in BOTH categories BOTH seasons.
Since the league expanded from 28 teams to 30 in 1995, these are all of the teams that ranked 20th or worse in consecutive seasons in those two categories. These are the dregs of the NFL over the past two decades, because to do it in consecutive seasons in both categories means it wasn't a fluke of scheduling. There is no doubt. Your team was among the league's worst at pass defense and rushing TD.
* = overlapping
2011-12 Dal (8-8, 8-8)
2010-11 Was (6-10, 5-11)
2008-09 Rams (1-15, 2-14)
2008-09 Sea (4-12, 5-11)
2008-09 Chiefs (2-14, 4-12)
2008-09 Lions (0-16, 2-14)
2007-08 Rams (3-13, 2-14)
2007-08 Bengals (7-9, 4-11-1)
2006-07 Falcons (7-9, 4-12)
2003-04 Lions (6-10, 5-11)*
2002-03 Lions (2-14, 6-10)*
2002-03 Cards (5-11, 4-12)*
2001-02 Lions (3-13, 2-14)*
2001-02 Cards (7-9, 5-11)*
2000-01 Cards (3-13, 7-9)*
2000-01 Falcons (4-12, 7-9)
1999-2000 Chi (5-11, 6-10)
1999-2000 Falcons (5-11, 4-12)*
1998-99 Saints (6-10, 3-13)
1998-99 Bears (4-12, 6-10)
1997-98 Colts (3-13, 3-13)
1996-97 Cards (7-9, 4-12)*
1995-96 Cards (4-12, 7-9)*
What you won't see there is a winning record. That's 37 different team-seasons represented. The only team to finish as high as .500 was the Cowboys.
And the Cowboys did it twice.
There have been 35 losing seasons, and two .500 seasons, both by the same team.
Remember, these are teams that finished 20th or worse. Dallas' highest ranking was 25th. So about half these teams were as good as or better than the Cowboys in those two categories, and they still couldn't manage to go .500.
As should be obvious by the W-L records, none of those teams was ever in a win-and-in game the last week of the season. And yet the Cowboys somehow managed to get into a win-and-in game each of the last two years.
If you're wondering why the team awarded a new contract to a QB who is 1-6 in win-or-go-home games, these are the reasons why. The team knows all teams aren't equal minus their quarterback. The team knows it's not really "Romo's" record.
Sit back and watch what Romo and Dez do the next few years, and hope we can improve enough (and stay healthy enough) in the other areas so that what they do actually means something.