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Romo, Cowboys under pressure

We're on the "Tony Romo watch" this Saturday. For the first time in his short career as a starter Romo must rebound from a truly bad game. The week before, against the Giants, he struggled, but it wasn't on the level of the Saints game. Of course, in New York, our defense didn't fall apart until the very last drive by the Giants, and Romo still had time with a tie score to lead us to victory. This past week against the Saints, he never got the offense started, and the defense welcomed the Saints offense to the endzone on a regular basis. But if Romo is going to be the QB we think he is, this week is a good time to continue that maturation process.

He will have more, but Sunday's performance was Romo's first dud.

The Saints offered a few ways to stop Romo. Now the Cowboys will find out how he can rebound from a forgettable performance, and if his play Sunday was merely an aberration.


Since Romo started his first game at Carolina on Oct. 29, there had been no need to simplify, because Romo made the game appear to be so simple. In his first five starts, he had 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.

But in the past two games, he has thrown one touchdown pass and been intercepted four times. The one touchdown, a 34-yarder to Terrell Owens, should have been another interception. The pass went through the hands of Saints defensive back Fred Thomas before it popped into Owens' hands.

It may be a lot to ask Romo to lead us to where we want to go this year, given his limited game experience as an NFL starting QB. But we can't forget how well he's played in games this year, so there is - as Parcells likes to say - demonstrated ability. But this upcoming game is different, because there's no pressure quite like December football during a playoff chase. This is when QB's make their bones; this is where we see the difference between a guy who can play well during the season, and a guy who can lead a team to the playoffs. There's very little room for error.

The question arose shortly after the Saints pummeled the Cowboys into submission on Sunday. Can a team that gets beaten that badly late in a season really be a Super Bowl contender? There is some evidence that they can.

One of Parcells best teams -- his 1996 New England Patriots -- took a late season beating before a Super Bowl run. The Patriots lost at home against Denver 34-8 in November and went on to Super Bowl XXXI.

With the Giants in 1990, Parcells' team was blasted 31-13 at Philadelphia in late November, but won Super Bowl XXV.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones experienced his own late-season blowout in a Super Bowl championship year. In 1995, the Cowboys lost 38-20 to San Francisco at home in November before finishing 12-4 and defeating Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XXX.

All three of the previously mentioned teams had losses in December.

That may make us feel a little better. But the NFL is littered with teams that showed promise in a season only to go into a nosedive once the real pressure started. The Cowboys are at a crossroads in their season; this Saturday provides a stark choice. Go on the road and beat a playoff contender and re-establish your credentials, or lose a pivotal game on your way to a flame-out.

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