Three Plays Haunt Tony Romo’s Career

What images do we remember about Roger Staubach?

Oh, let’s try: throwing a touchdown pass to Mike Ditka to put away Super Bowl VI against Miami; scrambling for his life and launching himself headfirst for first downs and touchdowns; the Hail Mary; throwing a bomb into the outstretched arms of Butch Johnson in Super Bowl XII; tossing up his final regular-season touchdown pass to Tony Hill to put away the Redskins in the season finale in 1979.

What images do we remember about Troy Aikman?

Plenty: laser-like accuracy while hitting Michael Irvin on a skinny post or a deep out; the perfect throw on the crossing pattern to Alvin Harper on a play that secured the team’s win in the 1992 NFC Championship Game; running off the field with his arms in the air during three Super Bowl wins.

My point today: What images will we remember when it comes to Tony Romo? What plays have established his legacy as the franchise quarterback?

My goal isn’t to attack him or say we need to find a new QB. That isn’t going to happen, and I am not convinced that the team can’t win with him at QB, especially if the team’s line and running game improves next year.

But consider this: Romo has completed 1752 regular-season and playoff passes. He’s thrown 153 touchdowns with only 74 interceptions. That’s damn good.

However, unless this team wins with him, his legacy will be defined by a small handful of plays he didn’t make.  Sure, we could go through each one of his interceptions, including those atrocious passes he threw against the Jets and Lions this season.

But there were other plays that he simply didn’t make—perhaps more the result of misfortune than bad play—that continue to haunt his career.

Of the many plays, consider these three:

January 6, 2007: Dallas vs. Seattle

You might think I would mention the botched hold that cost the team a win over the Seahawks, but that’s not the play I’m thinking of here. Instead, it was a pass play on 3rd-and-7 with less than two minutes remaining. Seattle had only one timeout remaining. Romo completed a pass to Jason Witten for what appeared to be a first down at the Seattle 1-yard line. Had this been the case, Dallas could have run the clock down and attempted a field goal with only seconds remaining. And since Dallas could have attempted the field goal on third down, Romo could have botched the snap, simply fallen on the ball, and still have given the team another attempt.

Instead, the officials reversed the call and only gave Witten six yards, setting Dallas up with a 4th-and-1. The Cowboys attempted a field goal, and you know the rest.

Romo had driven the Cowboys to what appeared to be the game-winning drive in his first playoff game. We couldn’t have asked for more. The pass to Witten was excellent, and it put the Cowboys in great shape to secure that win. But when the team lost a yard on the review, everything fell apart, and Romo wouldn’t win his first playoff game for another three years.

January 13, 2008: N.Y. Giants vs. Dallas

The Cowboys trailed the Giants 21-17 late in the fourth quarter. Romo could have been a hero. Some remember Romo’s pass towards Terry Glenn in the end zone on the final offensive play of the game for Dallas, but it was the previous play that has haunted Romo’s career.

Patrick Crayton had dropped what might have been a long touchdown earlier in the game. Later, with 21 seconds remaining and Dallas holding the ball at the Giant 23, Romo threw what should have been a touchdown on a fade pass to Crayton. It was the type of play that Staubach would have made. Even Aikman. Heck, perhaps even Danny White.

Instead, Crayton hesitated just long enough that the pass sailed over his head.

It was like Drew Pearson dropping the Hail Mary. Or Alvin Harper tripping and falling instead of catching the pass on the crossing route in the ’92 title game. Those were moments that made careers because the players came through rather than fail.

In Crayton’s case, his missed his chance at greatness with one moment of hesitation. And in Romo’s case, he yet again could not win a playoff game.

Patrick Crayton’s hesitation cost the team a shot at a win over the Giants in 2007.

December 11, 2011: N.Y. Giants vs. Dallas

There were plenty of passes we won’t want to remember from the 2011 season, even though Romo otherwise had a pretty good year. However, the pass that proved to be as costly as any other was not an interception but rather a miss on what should have been the game-clinching touchdown.

3rd and 5 from the Dallas 25. Dallas led at that point, 34-29. Miles Austin ran right past Aaron Ross, and it looked as if the play would be a touchdown. Instead (and it may have been Austin’s fault), the pass sailed over Austin’s head. Dallas punted, the Giants scored, and Dallas lost its division lead.

In all likelihood, the Cowboys would have won the division had they won that game. Instead, the Giants won that game along with their final two, including the win over Dallas, and the Cowboys’ season ended.

This might appear to be an odd choice for one of the three worst plays in Romo’s career, given the costly picks earlier in the season. However, it captures in a nutshell his problems as a quarterback and the team’s problems as a whole.

He can complete 65, or 70, or 75 percent of his passes. He can throw three, four, or five touchdowns in a game. He can avoid turnovers and other mistakes.

But with the game on the line, and the Cowboys needing five yards for a first down in a game that could mean a division title, could Romo and the Dallas offense convert?

Too often, the answer has been no. And given that this play occurred in December, it further illustrates shortcomings that have crushed our hopes for late-season success for several seasons.

  • Waldobji

    dude that is all you know? is whine ,whine, whine and whine on Tony Romo.Watch the dam game . If those freaking receivers adjust their play . It would be a different outcome. In 2006  yes tony fumble the ball but at the same time ,he kept us in the game . Its our defense ,defense ,defense and special teams,o-line  and kicker that lost the game for us . To bad that team is wasting talent because of stupidity decisions  on coaches and players ,and especially when drafting players . enough said. 

  • Mikeyoungvcu89

    So tired of dummies talking about Romo like he’s a liability. He is one of the few things that is right with the franchise.  Romo is a once in maybe..20 years or more QB that a franchise can get…or maybe you forget Quincy Carter ? Romo is one of the best QB’s EVER period. I wouldnt trade him for  Stauback or Aikman because you know what ? He has more skills.   No, he hasn’t won a superbowl and maybe he never will…unless the Cowboys can address their needs and have a whole TEAM of great players.  For the last few years the Cowboys have fooled people into thinking they are better than they are .. because they have a handful of some of the best players in the league, maybe some of the best ever..but its not enough when you have one of the worst pass defenses to ever take a pro field and a crappy O-line as well.  Its just going to be more of the same until they can fix those 2 things.

  • Anonymous

    Did you read what I wrote? Two of those plays were not Romo’s fault. The pass to Witten against Seattle was excellent, but the spot on the play was overruled after the replay. The pass to Crayton was perfect and would have been a touchdown if Crayton hadn’t stopped.

    Part of the point of this piece was that Romo is haunted by plays that were more unfortunate than his fault. I don’t know what you thought I wrote.

  • Anonymous

    I will never agree that Romo has more skills that Aikman or Staubach. 

  • Jadams2201

    2 of those plays were WR mis-haps they even admitted such.  Crayton said he pulled up at the end of the route instead of running through it and Miles said he lost it in the light.  the only play that should haunt Tony is the play of his defense and offensive line

  • Well, I can understand with Staubach on why you would see it that way.  Staubach = Cowboys pioneerlegend.  However, I do think Romo has as much skill as Aikman, if not more.  I’m sorry, but you have to be pretty damn good to keep breaking franchise records…A lot of those records were held by pretty damn good Hall of Fame Cowboys QBs, and Romo has broken a few of them. If things go right, he’ll not only break “all” franchise records, he’ll also break a few NFL records.  With all due respect to Aikman, in my opinion, if Aikman would have had Romo’s team in the 90s, Aikman would not have lead the Cowboys to any Super Bowl wins, let alone lead them on a trip to the Super Bowl. There’s just too many players who keeps making nucklehead plays for the Cowboys, right now. Besides, Aikman had Emmit Smith and an AWESOME hall of fame defense to work with. What has Romo had lately? Yeah, the Cowboys found a potential awesome running back this year, but he had a season ending injury.
    So, it’s easy to talk.  I do know this. Tony Romo is a better QB than Joe Theisman ever was.  Maybe that’s why Joe keeps talking shit about Romo. He’s jealous.  😉 And Eli is a piece of garbage who keeps getting himself in the right place at the right time. No way in hell should he be rated higher than Romo!  The Giants will not get pass the 2nd round, let alone the girst.

  • Kennethjennings

    Romo isn’t anywhere near the Quarterback Aikman was. It is something called a leader. This is the biggest thing Romo lacks along with football IQ. Romo is good but he cab’t get over the top. He never will. Quartebacks are supose to win you a few games with just their talent or smarts and that is not happening. 8-8 RECORD.Come on man!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Alochoa14

    Did you forget the costlyinterception he threw in the same divisional playoff game against the Giants.  You also failed to mention how Romo doesn’t help his O-line by changing the cadence to draw the other team offsides or from having the ball constantly snapped with 1 second remaining in the playclock.  Romo can be the 4th rated passer in the NFL, but he doesn’t do the little things as a quarterback to help his team get better.

  • Anonymous

    One thing I’ve often thought with regard to Staubach vs. Aikman is that I would not want Aikman to run Staubach’s offense of the 1970s but also would not want Staubach running Aikman’s offense of the 1990s. Both systems played the QBs’ respective strengths. 

    Aikman wouldn’t beat teams by throwing for 300 yards consistently. However, if you needed seven yards on a 3rd-and-7 to win the game, Aikman would complete the pass. Staubach was quite different in terms of skill level, but when plays happened during the times that mattered most, Staubach came through time and time again.

    With Romo, I think he is asked to do more in this offense than was the case with Aikman or Staubach. The game has changed to allow these more wide-open attacks, and Romo has a skill set that can thrive in a pass-happy system. However, if the game came down to a 3rd-and-7 play, would you want Romo throwing the ball instead of Aikman? If the team had to drive 80 yards in a 60 seconds to win, would you rather have Romo instead of Staubach? My answer is no to both– those QBs developed their legacies by thriving in those pressure situations.

    Romo has had some good performances late in games. I don’t deny that. He’s made some clutch throws. A main point of this piece, though, was that his reputation has been tarnished largely by a small handful of plays, and in several cases (including at least two of the three plays described and perhaps all three), the most costly plays weren’t really his fault. Unless and until those plays go in the Cowboys’ favor in games that have significance, Romo’s reputation isn’t going to improve.

  • Anonymous

    I thought Romo’s throw was too far to the inside as well, but I may be wrong and the blame could very well fall on Austin’s shoulders. I do blame Crayton for pulling up in the ’07 game, and the pass to Witten really wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was just a bad break.

  • In this years offense, I would definitely would rather have Romo over Aikman if it came done to a 3rd and 7 play or a 80 yard drive.  I guess it’s easy for you guys to forget all of his awesome plays and come backs. And to judge the quality of a QB on just a few bad plays is idiotic. 

  • Yeah, Romo has made some mistakes during games, but who hasn’t?  And “the team” is supposed to win you games, not just the QB.  Tony is doing what a QB is supposed to do.  Hell, if Romo was playing for the Giants and Eli for the Cowboys, no one would have an issue with Romo, because the Giants would probably already have 2 more rings with Romo while Eli would be fighting for the starting job in Dallas.  

  • Anonymous

    Richard, another way to look at my piece is this: 

    IF Romo’s pass to Witten in Seattle had gone just one more yard, Dallas wins, and we aren’t having the same conversation.

    IF Patrick Crayton keeps running instead of hesitating, Romo’s pass goes into the club’s history as one of the great throws.

    IF Romo hits Austin on the 3rd-and-5 play, Dallas wins the division, giving Romo another chance in the playoffs.

    I was not in this piece judging Romo’s overall quality based on just a few plays. I was saying that his reputation has been tarnished by a few plays he didn’t make, and I concede (hell, I stress) that those plays weren’t his fault. That’s why I didn’t focus in this pieces on the various  interceptions. 

    Aikman rarely succeeded when he had to air it out. He threw for 300 only 13 times, and Dallas lost six of those games. So I would agree that Romo is better for the current style of offense. At the same time, though, I would never choose Romo to run the offense of the 1990s, especially in playoff games. That was the time when Aikman could be nearly perfect. 

    I have a feeling you will disagree. That’s fine.

  • HanD

    Romo doesn’t help his oline?  have you seen how many times he has to jump duck spin and dodge to stay off of his back?  that’s part of the problem is his OLs have not been as good as the other elite qbs in the league.

  • HanD

    Romo is one of the guys even keeping this mediocre group competitive in the games.  Without him you aren’t even in position to drive for the game winning points.

  • Dave

    Nonsense. This is the kind of lazy cherry-picking that defines modern sports journalism and sports blogging. Romo’s stats are in the top three in the league and higher in some categories. What about the O-line Aikman had? What about that defense that protected leads deep into the fourth quarter? What about the current defense that Romo has to deal with? Last place last year and no secondary to speak of, always vulnerable to the late big plays. A young and sketchy O-line. A running game that’s as inconsistent as a Republican Presidential poll.

    Please. Romo doesn’t have a legacy yet because Jerry’s whole *team* hasn’t earned a legacy. The only reason they’re not the Lions circa 2008: Romo.

    Romo is one guy. Whatever problems the Cowboys have are organizational. The Cowboys lose in spite of Romo. Aikman said it himself: “[Romo] is better than I ever thought of being.”

  • Anonymous

    Think about your logic. You say that Romo is just one guy on a team and that it isn’t fair to write a piece like this because he can’t win game on his own. But then you suggest that this team has such a lack of talent that Romo is the *ONLY* reason this team won. Really? This team had such little talent that if it weren’t for Romo, the team wouldn’t have won a single game? Does that mean that he won those eight games all on his own?

  • Realistfan

    It seems this article is pointing to Romo deficiencies, when in all three cases the end result was out of his control.  Crayton gave up, Austin did not see the ball and adjust to the spot, and Witten could have been a yard deeper or made the play.  In all three cases, and in many more in his career, Romo has put the ball where it needed to be.  Remember some of the Owens and Williams drops, and even a few, but important Austin drops over the last few years.  These plays may help define his career, but he could wind up like Marino – one of the top Qbs ever to play whose team was never quite good enough to make it all the way. Let’s hope not. One of the three fastest to 20,000 yards ever, best 4th Q Passer rating among active QBs, fourth best passer rating during the regular season this year.  Easily a top five QB every year.  Let’s get him some help and hope the TEAM can get it done.

  • Realistfan

    ON that kind of pass the QB puts it in a spot.  As I watched it, I wondered why Austin did not move to the ball some – juts a step or so, and after the game when the lights information came out, I understood.

  • Realistfan

    Cadences and snap timing are a team thing, not a Romo thing.  Watch P.Manning use almost every available second between snaps during even games or games when they are ahead – it is an opportunity for falls calls and to see what the defense is doing pre-snap, including sniffing out blitzes and so on.  You should know more about what you are talking about.

  • Realistfan

    Wrong.  This team this year without Romo is maybe 2-14 at best.  Romo made more plays this year ot keep them in games than he lost. Detroit was an aberration and Garrett called the plays!  Why not run the ball and grind the clock with a 3 TD lead? If and when the Cowboys put a complete team around Tony – like Aikman had in the 90s, then he too wil win it all, If not, he won’t.  Look at the examples !  Who would not want Marion in his prime s their starting QB for any team – did he win a SB – No!  How long did it take Elway – until he got a complete team around him.  P. Manning took six years, and as long as he is really healthy, I’d take him over every other QB to be my starter.  Romo bashers don’t get it.  And if you’ve never played the position, or the game, you probably don’t really get it either.

  • Realistfan

    No but without him they are probably 2-14 or 3-13 at best.

  • Rayschichtel

    LMFAO! You obviously have never seen Roger Staubach play. Give me your address and I would send you 3 dozen games as evidence that #12 was as good as his peers said he was. Stupid arm chair quarterback! I wouldn’t send you any free of charge just for that dumb statement. Know your history boy!

  • Kennethjennings

    What about last year when he got hurt and Kitna came in and ran the team better than Romo. I am thinking that this guy does not put his time in studying the game of football. I don’t believe you have ever played the position either. This guy does not pay attention to the little things. He has the best tightend in football and does not use him wisely. Romo will never win a superbowl even if he was on the Packers team.

  • Kennethjennings

    Like I said if Romo was the QB for the Packers they would not win either. This guy can’t win the big one. He is too worried about golf in the off season. Do your dilligent work in the offseason and try to get better every year. I don’t care what your stats are other than how many Superbowl rigs you have and in case you haven’t looked in the last 6 seasons that would be none. I have been a Cowboy fan for 47 years and I have not seen such a collapse year after year at the end of the season. It is not all Romo’s fault but I just don’t think he is the guy. As for Eli if it wasn’t for one bubble gum catch we would be talking bad about him as well. You have to be consistant at the QB position and that would be the good consistance to even think about winning a Superbowl. That is not happening in Big D any time soon. Jerry needs to bring in a good coaching staff that can actually coach and maybe Romo can be good but right now that ain’t happening.

  • Krl97a

    I’m pro Romo but Aikman was a more accurate passer and more serious leader. He and certainly Staubach would be lighting up the stat boards if they played today.

  • Patrick Howard

    Are you sure it was a witten throw for 4th and 1? I remember it being a run by MB3 called for a first down and overturned.