Through the first five and a half games of the 2010 season there was a quarterback in the NFL on pace for the greatest single statistical season of his career. If he, and his team, kept the pace that had been established, this quarterback would likely have shattered team record for attempts and completions, he would have come close to setting the team record for completion percentage, and would break his own record for yards thrown in a season.
Unfortunately, the team as a whole was not playing at the same level. There was no running game, the receivers were making mistakes, dropping and tipping passes. The defense was slowly falling apart and parts of the special teams were struggling. Despite the quarterback having what should have been a career season, the team was 1-4 headed into that sixth game of the season and all of the focus was on what had gone wrong -- not what had been going right.
Tony Romo was having what could have been a great season. The Dallas Cowboys were falling apart. The latter is all that should count.
The Dallas Cowboys season was collapsing after the first few games of the year. Despite the quarterback playing better than we'd seen from him in the past, the team as a whole was struggling. Many felt that Tony Romo was the only chance this team had of truly pulling itself out of the abyss. When he went down hard to the turf in the second quarter against the New York Giants -- with the Cowboys leading, and playing well -- it was generally thought the Cowboys season was just as broken as Romo's collarbone turned out to be.
For nearly four years Tony Romo has been the savior of the Dallas Cowboys. With the exception of just a handful of blowout losses over the course of his career (Saints in 2006, Patriots in 2007, Eagles in 2008 and Vikings in 2009), Romo has been the leader that has given this team a chance to win no matter what might have happened in the course of the game. It's seemed that even with the team -- or himself -- having a bad game, Romo has always had the Cowboys within reach of pulling out a win in nearly every loss of his career.
Romo was the player that made fans excited again. He was the spark that ignited this four-year journey to postseason favorites and while there have certainly been bumps along the way, Romo has always been the player that has given this team the best chance at success.
For some reason, that ability stopped working this season.
Romo was playing great. While there were a few throws here and there we'd like him to have back, he was perhaps the only player on the team that was truly playing up to his potential each game. Due to penalties, defensive lapses, dropped balls and tipped interceptions, the Cowboys found themselves forced to overcome too much this season, and despite the ability of Romo to lead a late comeback, the Cowboys were falling short in nearly every game.
Now, with Romo hurt, Jon Kitna has stepped into the starting quarterback's role. After two straight wins there seems to be a growing sentiment -- that is very tough to understand -- that perhaps the Dallas Cowboys don't need Romo after all. With Kitna playing well and the Cowboys now winning, perhaps it's Kitna that ultimately fits this team better. Anyone who attempts to follow this line of reasoning hasn't really been paying attention to the Cowboys for the past four years.
Jon Kitna entering the huddle as the starting quarterback did not suddenly spark this offense into playing at their full potential. In his first two games as a starter, Kitna had two touchdown passes and six interceptions and an average quarterback rating of 64.1. The Cowboys, meanwhile, lost both games by a combined score of 80-24. The Dallas Cowboys did not need a new quarterback in order to start winning again, they needed a complete team makeover.
The Cowboys received that change with Jason Garrett taking over as head coach.
Fans love seeing "tangible" results; being able to physically see the effect a player or a coach has on a team. They also love seeing physical emotion from players, it's an easy way to gauge just how a player is feeling. Jon Kitna wears his emotions on his sleeve; when he was losing he was sullen, angry and mimicked the general feeling of the entire team under Wade Phillips. He wasn't leading the Cowboys to victory by himself -- the team was losing as one large underachieving group.
With Jason Garrett now running the ship, the team has taken on a new persona. They are excited, they are motivated and they are once again having fun on the sidelines. Jon Kitna, the emotional guy that he is, is once again mimicking that overall feeling; he's laughing, jumping around, slapping helmets and as the quarterback he's getting the most attention than anyone else on the team.
The Cowboys are insanely lucky to have a quarterback like Jon Kitna backing up Tony Romo. He's experienced, he's aggressive, he's accurate and he's a natural leader. Make no mistake, however: Jason Garrett and the coaching change is what has ultimately made the difference in this two-game turnaround, not just Jon Kitna.
For whatever reason, Tony Romo now appears to be under attack while he heals his broken collarbone. He's not the vocal, emotional leader that Kitna is and therefore isn't as effective, it's been said. Kitna is playing just as well in Romo's place so why should the Cowboys stick with Romo long-term, I've been hearing. While I'm sure most fans would love to see Romo play with some of the external fire that Kitna possesses, how can there be any doubt that Romo is not one of the most motivated and electric players in the NFL? How many times has Romo bailed out his offensive line, or set up his receivers with his athleticism and ability to move around the pocket? Romo is not perfect, but he's still one of the best options at quarterback any team could possibly hope to have.
Perhaps Romo is learning some valuable lessons while standing on the sideline, watching another veteran quarterback's ability to really lead his team. Romo is not perfect, despite his physical abilities has never been a quarterback that verbally inspires those around him; he's always used his actions and his on-field play to inspire his team. With Kitna showing how being vocal is certainly valuable at times, there's hope that Romo returns an even better quarterback and leader than before.
What's even more perplexing is how Romo is now under fire for remaining silent through the coaching change from Wade Phillips to Jason Garrett. Romo has not talked to the media after injuring his collarbone and some are calling him out for not publicly addressing the coaching change. While some may view that as a problem, I see that as Romo not taking the spotlight while he's not on the field; Kitna is the quarterback and Romo has allowed him to fully embrace that role on the team.
Now the Cowboys are having to decide on whether Romo should play the final few games of the season. No matter what the record of the team, no matter what chances the Cowboys might actually have at making the playoffs -- this is a supremely bad idea. The long-term health of Tony Romo is not worth trying to win the final few games of a lost season; while some feel the momentum of playing well in December could carry over, it's not worth the risk of Romo suffering further injury and requiring surgery.
The Cowboys are now experiencing the luxury every team wishes they had: a backup quarterback capable of leading their team to victory. Kitna is playing well, even in the two losses, and there's no reason why he shouldn't finish out the season as the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.
Despite what may happen in these final six games, no matter how well Kitna may or may not play, Tony Romo is this team's starting quarterback next season and for years to come.