IRVING, Texas – The Dallas Cowboys’ crack P.R. staff moved swiftly Wednesday to debunk a story out of Baltimore that quarterback Tony Romo had cracked under heavy pressure from the Ravens’ press corps. A reporter had just asked Romo via conference call if he was pleased with the amount of passes he’s being asked to throw this season when the quarterback fell silent.
Repeated attempts to reach Romo were unsuccessful, leading to a flurry of tweets that the Cowboys quarterback had perhaps hung up in anger. The Cowboys soon released audio to prove that it was a bad connection, and Romo was made available later in the day. At that point, America was able to return to a much more controversial story: Nolan Ryan’s apparent soft stance (on our radio show) on the use of tobacco by major-league ballplayers.
But if you’re looking for good news regarding Romo, he has a tendency to play extremely well in the weeks after what we’ll call “disaster” games. Those are games in which his multiple turnovers play a large role in Cowboys losses. In the wake of crippling losses to the New York Jets and Detroit Lions last season, Romo rebounded with stretches of mistake-free football. It’s too bad that it still takes a disastrous performance to get Romo’s attention, but that’s just become a fact of life for Cowboys fans.
After he almost single-handedly gave a game away to the Jets in last year’s season opener, Romo responded by throwing for a combined 600 yards and no turnovers in wins against the 49ers and Redskins. And he did this after suffering a broken rib and punctured lung in the comeback win in San Francisco.
He followed that with a three-interception game against the Lions in which the Cowboys forfeited a huge lead. Romo then led the Cowboys to wins in five of the next seven games, throwing 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions. That’s just one of the reasons Romo is such a lightning rod among Cowboys fans. He can go through significant stretches of time where he plays like an elite NFL quarterback. But age 32, he’s never quite turned the corner when it comes to consistency. And even though he continued to play well down the stretch last season, the Cowboys still fell apart and missed the playoffs by one game.
At 2-2, the Cowboys need to break out of their malaise on offense. They are barely averaging 16 points per game, which puts them in what’s commonly referred to as Blaine Gabbert territory. It’s not like this is the first time Romo has operated behind a subpar offensive line, but he’s been able to elevate his unit in the past. You have to think that Jason Witten’s dismal start is behind him based on his performance against the Chicago Bears. And wide receiver Dez Bryant indicated to me Wednesday that he and Romo are working hard to be on the same page. And maybe the Cowboys will do the wise thing this week and try to take as much decision-making away from Bryant as possible. I’m pretty sure the guy knows the “post” and “go” routes. He could stick with those and not worry about having to adjust on the fly.
Former backup quarterback Jon Kitna told me a couple years ago that he felt like Romo had finally realized that it was OK to punt every now and then. He said it took Romo a few years to realize that nearly every decision he made impacted the entire roster. Unfortunately, it seems like Romo forgets those lessons from time to time.
And not to break any news, but it’s probably not wise to forget when Ravens safety Ed Reed is lurking nearby. He’s one of the few players in the league who is basically allowed to freelance no matter what has been called in from the sideline. The Cowboys had a player named Cliff Harris who once had that arrangement with Tom Landry.
On Sunday, we’ll find out quickly whether the Romo bounceback theory is in full effect. If it’s not, the Cowboys will simply become another statistic at hostile M&T Bank Stadium.