Since the botched hold during the playoff game against the Seahawks in January of 2007, I have been patiently waiting for Tony Romo to “get it”. I have been waiting for him to shake off the “Aw shucks isn’t this a fun game” mentality and step up mentally to lead his team.
I bought a Romo jersey to wear on game days to try and show my support of such a gifted athlete. And last night, I was filled with pride as I watched him make sound, mature decisions and command his squad . . . for three quarters. Then he became the Tony Romo of old. The Tony Romo who did botch that hold. The Tony Romo who folds under pressure. The Tony Romo who can’t get the Dallas Cowboys deep into the playoffs.
When Romo spoke about his fumble on the one yard line, he said “I was trying to protect the ball”. Tony, you don’t protect the ball (or yourself) by diving headfirst into the defensive secondary. Not only should he have gone down by sliding feet first, he should not have scrambled at all. Earlier in the game, he understood as much by throwing the ball away when the plays weren’t there. Even a field goal at that point in the game would have been the nail in the coffin of the Jets. Instead, the fumble was the shot in the arm they needed to rally.
When Dallas got the ball back, they still could have put the game away with decent clock management, but didn’t. Inexplicably, Tony Romo repeatedly tried to force the ball to a very clearly hurt Dez Bryant. Whatever the reason, Dez was not playing at 100 (or even 75) percent by the 4th quarter. I would question whether it was a good idea to have him in the game at all at that point, but it clearly was because his presence drew double teams and the constant coverage of Derrelle Revis ; arguably the best corner back in the league. This coverage on Bryant should have freed up Miles Austin, Kevin Ogletree, or Jason Witten. But Romo didn’t seem to even look in another direction. Forcing the ball to Bryant didn’t work and Cowboys were forced to punt – or at least try to punt.
There was a spark of hope toward the end of the game though as the Cowboys began to slowly move the ball downfield on the following possession. I texted a buddy of mine “As long as he doesn’t try to force the ball to Bryant, we will be ok”. Well, then he did just that. Into double coverage. At least five feet behind him and three feet too high. Romo was bound and determined to be the Romo we all know too well.
The bottom line for me is this: The Cowboys are on the verge of greatness. The problem is that with Tony Romo at the helm, I believe they will stay right there. Romo is pretty good. His numbers are impressive. I want to like the guy. I want him to be one who gets us back to our former greatness. But I honestly just don’t see it anymore. At 31 years old and with 8 NFL seasons under his belt, Tony Romo has had plenty of chances to hone his mental toughness and leadership ability. But I never breathe a sigh of relief when he has the ball late in a game. Instead I think “just hold on, just hang in there”.
Romo is pretty good, but Romo is not great. Unless he has some kind of epiphany that fundamentally changes his mental approach to the game, Romo will keep our team back at “pretty good”. “Pretty good” gets you 10-6 or 9-7 and a shot at the playoffs every year. But “pretty good” does not win playoff games. “Pretty good” doesn’t get you close to a Super Bowl. The Cowboys have most of the pieces in place to become an elite team and to do it this year. But as long as Romo continues to be, well. . . Romo, then we as fans are stuck with continued disappointment, a greater hatred for the Eagles as they embrace their chance for greatness, and a lot of free time in January every year.
Please Tony – step up and step up right now.