Back in the summer, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo told the media that everyone was gong to see the best version of him ever. Being trained professionals, the media hid their laughter - mostly. The announcement was treated with skepticism and even disbelief. He was, after all, 34 and recovering from back surgery, on a team that was going exactly nowhere this season. While he might be able to muster some of his old magic and put up occasional good numbers, it was immaterial because the absolute worst defense in the NFL for the season, and perhaps for all time, would hold him back. Not only did the collective wisdom of those learned media types know that the team was going nowhere, they figured this could well be Romo's swan song, since that back could go at any time. And it was almost certainly the season that would finally end the Jason Garrett experiment. Certainly Garrett was very much involved in going all in on Romo as the franchise quarterback with the nine figure contract, and another failed season would see the end of Jerry Jones' patience.
As we enter the new year, we now know that Romo was right and all the expectations for the team were dead wrong. This is the best version of him we have ever seen. He has been one of the key elements in the Cowboys winning 12 games and getting back into the playoffs. He will hopefully be missing the Pro Bowl, which he was selected for, because he is in practice for another game the following week. And now he has been named the Offensive Player of the Month for December.
That is impressive enough. Even more impressive is this: His passer rating of 133.7 is the highest ever for the month of December. Ever. During the month, he was playing out of his mind, throwing 12 touchdowns and only one interception (although he did get lucky a couple of times when defenders dropped easy picks).
This is part of the body of evidence that has thrust him into the MVP discussion. He may wind up missing out on that honor, at least partly because he shares the backfield with another legitimate MVP candidate in DeMarco Murray. Not coincidentally, Murray already won the Offensive Player of the Month in September. With their fellow Pro Bowl selectees Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, they must make the Cowboys' offense a true nightmare scenario for opposing defenses.
Meanwhile the defense is also playing the best it has all year. They are forcing turnovers (while the offense is doing a good job taking care of the ball) and the pass rush is finally starting to get home to the quarterback with some regularity. As a result the team has outscored opponents in December by a pretty impressive 165 to 79.
It makes you wonder if not getting a bye due to the tiebreaker rules might actually be a good thing for the team. When you have this hot a hand, you really want to avoid breaking the rhythm.
Momentum in sports is a funny thing. It really is just having confidence and playing better (or sometimes luckier) than the opponent. But it is also a very real thing for players and coaches. And right now Dallas has more momentum than anyone else in the playoffs. There are many reasons some analysts are picking them as the best bet to go all the way in the NFC. Romo's capabilities are certainly among them.
It is a far cry from missing the playoffs in the last game of the season. And it certainly proves that Romo knew exactly what he was talking about when he told us what we would see this season - and postseason.