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.
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.