Sunday night football is back.
The Dallas Cowboys trailed the New York Giants by six points with less than a minute and a half to play in a decades-old rivalry game to open the season. Despite the pundits pointing to his past failures and his inevitable forthcoming late-game miscue, “Arts-and-Craftsy” Tony Romo was nowhere to be seen Sunday night in Dallas.
Instead, we all witnessed a game-winning touchdown drive that might have finally put to rest questions about whether Romo is capable of being a consistent starting quarterback for a winning football franchise.
Romo completed five of six passes on a drive that ran the clock down to just seven seconds. An 11-yard pass to tight end Jason Witten at the goal line put Dallas up 27-26, leaving Giants coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning few options to retake the lead.
With New York leading by 10 just eight minutes earlier, it seemed all but over for Dallas up until that moment. But from the jaws of defeat, Romo pulled out a victory for the Cowboys.
Since becoming Dallas’ starting quarterback in 2006, Romo has led the league in fourth-quarter comebacks. His 24 wins in those clutch situations beats out Peyton Manning’s 21 and Eli Manning’s 20, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
So, I am finally saying it: The debate is over. Romo is an elite quarterback for an elite team.
Last season, Romo threw 34 touchdowns with the highest completion percentage of his career en route to an NFC East title and a divisional playoff game appearance. If Sunday night’s game is any indicator, last season’s iteration of Romo will not just be a flash in the pan.
Sure, Romo threw two picks against the Giants. But he completed 36 of 45 passes overall, including three touchdowns, and recorded 356 yards of offense in the process. If you take the interceptions out of the equation, Romo was far and away the best quarterback of the NFL’s opening weekend. His age and maturity are finally showing. At 35 years old, a player who for many years was considered a kid is now the sixth-oldest starting quarterback in the league.
Unless his back injuries come back to haunt him, Romo seems poised to lead the Cowboys to a second NFC East title and an even deeper run into the NFL playoffs. He might not have a championship under his belt now, but the scars from past failures remind him daily of how close he has come to greater success.
“Either you’re going to be comfortable in these situations, or you’re going to lose a lot of them,” Romo said after the win Sunday night. “You just have that mindset that the game gets started halfway through the fourth quarter.”
With that mentality, it seems there is no situation in which Romo will not be able to find a win.
Sunday night’s victory appears more monumental when considering wide receiver Dez Bryant’s injury in the fourth quarter. Even without one of thier most talented offensive players, the Cowboys still managed to score in a make-or-break situation. Bryant, who will miss 4-6 weeks with a foot injury, limped out of the locker room to greet and cheer his teammates as they came down the tunnel after the game. He understood the significance of what just happened.
With a second-week bye, Dallas has some time to figure out how to run its offense going forward. To fill Bryant’s shoes, the Cowboys will rely on wide receiver Devin Street, who is coming off an otherwise quiet rookie campaign last season.
Despite appearances in 16 games in 2014-15, Street was only targeted seven times. But if Romo’s improved accuracy holds steady, Street should be able to make a quick adjustment to playing with the pros.
I am no fan of the Cowboys, but it is hard not to be impressed with the show they put on in the fourth quarter. From the view in front of my TV, I would bet we would not be seeing “Arts-and-Craftsy” Romo anywhere other than the DirecTV commercials in between the games going forward. I guess all that time channeling his frustrations through papier-mache worked out pretty well.
And for a quarterback who played at Eastern Illinois and went undrafted in 2003, that is not too shabby.