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Tony Romo: The Choke Artist Myth And Elimination Vs. Playoff Hunt Games

Myths about Tony Romo being a choke artist get debunked routinely, so someone created the "elimination games" stat. Here is a closer look at that "statistical proof" and a new stat for "playoff hunt" games.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

I always laugh at the "statistical proof" used to define Tony Romo's ability in big games...excuse me, elimination games. When an undrafted rookie rises to the helm of the Dallas Cowboys and becomes one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league, you have a cornucopia of factors that are sure to create drama and inspire the anti-Cowboys nation. At every turn, memes and myths would pop up taking shots at Romo's abilities, and BTB (and other media sources) would often disprove those fallacies in short order. First, it was claimed that Romo's statistical superiority didn't matter because he couldn't get it done in the fourth-quarter. Then it became about Romo not being able to play well in the important games late in the season. But the truth shall set you free...

  • Romo ranks sixth among active QBs for the most fourth-quarter comebacks - playing fewer games than anyone ahead of him on that list and those below him on the Top 10 list
  • Romo ranks ninth among active QBs for the most game winning drives - again, playing fewer games than those above him on the list
  • Romo has had phenomenal fourth-quarter QB ratings. This 2012 article states his career 102.1 QB rating in the fourth-quarter is the best among active QBs in the league, considerably surpassing the elite QBs like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady. His 2012 rating (101.2) and 2013 rating (105.6) means he is likely still the best in the league in the fourth-quarter.
  • In games in Dec. and Jan. Romo has 63.3 completion % and 50 TD vs. 29 INT

So after all these previous myths were debunked, the national media create a new statistic to show viewers why they had been badmouthing Tony Romo...the elimination game stat. This is a collection of data from seven games in Romo's 100+ game starts. It includes four playoff games and three Week 17 matchups that determined whether the Cowboys would make it to or progress in the playoffs.

What it does not include are games like the Week 17 domination over the Eagles in '09 because the Cowboys 11-5 record didn't demand a victory to make the playoffs. A game, where coincidentally, Romo had a great performance does not get included because despite it being the final week of the season against a division rival that you would see again in the wild card playoff round, and despite the fact it determined who would become the NFC East champ...a loss would not have eliminated the Cowboys from the playoffs, so it is apparently unimportant.

For the sake of time, let's breeze past my adamant objections to terms like "big games" and "chokes when it matters" being used based off of this ‘elimination game data set.' Because every game in a 16-game schedule holds important playoff ramifications, and matchups against division rivals are "big games," and nationally televised games are "big games," and week 15 and 16 games that must be won to keep your team in the playoff hunt are "big games," and matchups to clinch a playoff spot are "big games," and week 17 matchups for the division crown are "big games." So, let's just ignore the problem with this definition of important elimination games, which boils down to a limited data set used as empirical evidence to one of the greatest intangibles in sports.

Let's just concentrate on the limited scope of this great derogatory myth, because even that makes me laugh.

Used "properly," this data set will show you that Romo in big games - sorry, did it again, elimination games - just can't win and is a choke artist. You can point to seven interceptions in those seven "most important games," top it off by including a few sack fumbles, wrap it in a bow highlighting the 1-6 W/L record...and there you go!

"Statistical proof" that Romo just can't win the games that matter most:

2006 Playoffs vs SEA 17 29 58.6% 1 0
2007 Playoffs vs NYG 18 36 50.0% 1 1
2008 WK17 vs PHI 21 39 53.9% 0 1
2009 Playoffs vs PHI 23 35 65.7% 2 0
2009 Playoffs vs MIN 22 35 62.9% 0 1
2011 WK17 vs NYG 29 37 78.4% 2 1
2012 WK17 vs WAS 20 37 54.1% 2 3
Totals 150 248 60.5% 8 7

There are many reasons a QB can struggle in a game, including bad weather, an old offensive-line breaking down and getting abused by the defense, and wide-receivers dropping wide open passes that could lead to TDs and wins. But let's ignore the fact that in his worst games on this list Romo had to overcome these kinds of factors. Is a QB with over 60% completions and more TDs than INTs really choking in those games? Sure, this small sample size averages out below Romo's career averages, but is it proof Romo will not be able to win when it matters? The Cowboys only won one of these games. Can you count more games where Romo's performance was certainly good enough to lead his team to victory?

Now, let's have some fun with numbers and show why this small sample set is ridiculous. I am going to add some games and rename this the stat for "Playoff Hunt Games." We will still include all the elimination games, but also add games that clinched a playoff spot or won the division crown. Let's see what happens...

Elimination Games 150 248 60.5% 8 7
2006 Clinch Wk15 vs ATL 22 29 75.9% 2 1
2007 Clinch WK13 vs GB 19 30 63.3% 4 1
2009 Clinch WK16 vs WAS 25 38 65.8% 2 1
2009 WinDiv Wk17 vs PHI 24 34 70.6% 2 1
Totals 240 379 63.3% 18 11

As you can clearly see, when the Dallas Cowboys are playing games to clinch a playoff spot, win a division title, or progress into the playoffs, Tony Romo is phenomenal with a 63.3 completion % throwing 18 TD vs. 11 INT. See how fun it is to play with numbers and small sample sizes for statistical proof? Can you imagine what would happen if we started including all the must-win games where Romo led the Cowboys to victory so that those Week 17 elimination games even mattered?

If anyone thinks the Cowboys can't make it to or win in the playoffs because of Romo, then they simply haven't seen enough of his games to know better. So whenever someone tells you Romo is a choke artist when it matters, you now have even more statistical proof to let them know they are wrong... Romo's Playoff Hunt Games stat.

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