When Tony Romo went down in week two against the Philadelphia Eagles, we all knew it would be a tough road ahead. And when he went down again on Thanksgiving against the Carolina Panthers, it was evident that the Dallas Cowboys 2015 season was over. It was frustrating for fans to sit helplessly, watching bumbling performances week-after-week as the Cowboys fished for a backup quarterback that could just play respectable football. The Cowboys would go 1-11 in the 12 games started by the assortment of backups. It was a nightmare.
I was recently asked if I had ever seen the life snatched out of a Cowboys season due to such horrible play from the backup quarterback. Have the Cowboys ever had a season before where they've had a team bound for the playoffs, only to have it come to an abrupt halt due to an inept quarterback? Actually, it didn't take me that long to remember such an incident.
I got you, Babe
Before Babe Laufenberg became a fixture in Cowboys Radio, he gained notoriety to many Cowboys fans for something that speaks louder than his words - his actions on the field.
After Jimmy Johnson went 1-15 in his debut season in 1989, Cowboys fans were given a big ray of hope as a late surge the following season made people believe that Jimmy was on the verge of righting the ship. The 1990 season was a big year for Dallas. It was the first season the "triplets" all played together as the final piece, Emmitt Smith, had arrived. Smith didn't start the season as the Cowboys starting running back (Tommie Agee did), but it didn't take him long to take over the job. He had a great rookie season, rushing for 937 yards. And the while the "Great Wall" wasn't quite great yet, there were many pieces of the offensive line already in place. Nate Newton, Mark Stepnoski, Mark Tuinei, and Kevin Gogan were on the team. They would finish their career with 16 Pro Bowls between them.
The Cowboys were riding a four-game winning streak as they entered their final two games of the regular season. All they would need to get into the playoffs would be a single win or a single loss from the New Orleans Saints and the Cowboys would complete one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in NFL history. From a one-win season to the playoffs!
But that never happened.
Troy Aikman would separate his shoulder in their week 15 game against the Eagles. The Cowboys would then turn to their backup quarterback, Babe Laufenberg. And just like that, all the goodness that was the 1990 season would be crumbled up in a little ball and tossed in a wastebasket. Babe would go 13-36 for 140 yards, no touchdowns and four picks on route to a 17-3 loss. Emmitt Smith was kept in check with just 61 yards rushing. The next week against Atlanta, Laufenberg would deliver another atrocious performance, going 10-24 with 129 yards and two more interceptions. With no viable passing threat, the ground game would again be stymied as Smith only had 34 rushing yards this time. The Falcons would smoke them 26-7. The Saints would win their last two games, so the Cowboys great rebound season would end on a sour note.
Let's make a deal
It was not surprising that Laufenberg would never play another down for the Cowboys. The following season, the Cowboys would take the backup quarterback spot a little more seriously as they traded a fourth-round draft pick to the Los Angeles Raiders for Steve Beuerlein. The 26-year-old quarterback had started for the Raiders in 1989 but was inactive during the 1990 season due to a contract dispute. Having a starting caliber QB to backup Aikman was important and the Cowboys didn't have to waste much time before cashing in on their investment.
During the 1991 season, Aikman again would get hurt. Beuerlein would step in and the Cowboys would keep winning football games. He helped the Cowboys win their final four regular season games. He would throw five TDs and only two interceptions. Beuerlein wouldn't have to carry the team; he just had to be able to effectively use his weapons. In each of those four games, his longest pass would always go to Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith would rush for over 100 yards. Dallas would have themselves a dependable backup quarterback. The result - the Cowboys would return to the playoffs.
The lesson learned
Despite such great improvement and being named coach of the year in 1990, Jimmy Johnson was very disappointed with how the Cowboys finished the season. The front office would take action the following season and fix a big area of concern.
Fast forward to now. The Cowboys clearly have a big need for a quality backup quarterback. The team will be much more conscientious about how they address this need going forward. The front office may be a lot of things, but one thing they are not is complacent. This team is always making moves and is not afraid to make a big splash if needed. Dallas has done a great job at taking an area where they've been dreadful one year, and doing an about-face the following year. Expect a much better alternative at backup quarterback in 2016.