ARLINGTON, Texas – In what should’ve been one of Tony Romo’s finest moments, all the painful memories surfaced. A record-breaking day that saw him outplay Peyton Manning was undermined by an interception that set up the Broncos for a game-winning field goal at the gun.
When a quarterback throws for a team-record 506 yards and five touchdowns, it should be enough. Monte Kiffin’s defense deserves the blame in this loss … but that’s not how it works.
Romo had the ball in his hands with 2:04 left in the game and three timeouts in his pocket. The way he’d carved up the Broncos’ defense all day, the only thing Romo needed to worry about was scoring too quickly. But the narrative of his rags-to-riches NFL career came knocking on a throw intended for rookie tight end Gavin Escobar.
Feeling pressure from the Broncos’ defensive line, Romo didn’t quite lead his tight end enough. Denver linebacker Danny Trevathan made a diving interception at the Cowboys’ 24-yard line, causing everyone not dressed in bright orange at AT&T Stadium to fall completely silent.
Romo’s teammates tried to console him – Jason Witten’ has become too good at this – but this quarterback is haunted. His immense talent has given him generational wealth, but he keeps reinforcing this idea that he chokes at the worst possible moments.
“The kid made a good play,” Romo said moments after the loss. “I just didn’t get as much on it just with the people around me as I wanted to. I wanted to put it another foot or two out in front. I didn’t put it exactly where I need to complete the pass. And it’s frustrating and disappointing.”
Maybe this is one of those rare losses the Cowboys can build on while trying to win the dreadful NFC East. For one day, this offense matched the prolific Broncos possession after possession. And Romo was brilliant from the first drive. The Cowboys needed to play a perfect game on offense and catch a couple of breaks on defense. All of that happened, and they still lost.
Kiffin must’ve had flashbacks to trying to stop the Oregon Ducks in the Coliseum. His defense had two takeaways thanks to Ernie Sims and much-maligned cornerback Morris Claiborne, but it couldn’t get off the field when the Cowboys took a 48-41 lead with 7:19 left in the fourth quarter. Middle linebacker Sean Lee was disgusted by the performance.
“It’s unacceptable when the offense scores 48 points and we lose,” said Lee. “Today we let [the offense] down completely, and it’s unacceptable.”
Romo played brilliantly from the start Sunday. After Sims dislodged the ball from Eric Decker’s grasp and Claiborne recovered, the Cowboys faced a third-and-10 at the Broncos’ 45 yard line.
Romo dropped back and eluded three different defenders before firing a 12-yard pass to Witten. The Broncos sacked him four times, but only the last one caused major problems. That put the Cowboys in a second-and-16 hole that set up Romo’s late interception.
Three different Cowboys receivers finished with at least 121 yards. Witten toyed with Broncos linebackers while rookie Terrance Williams bounced back from a shaky game against the Chargers to catch four passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. The Cowboys had taken a fairly conservative approach with Romo in the first four games, but they cut him loose against the Broncos.
The always understated Jerry Jones said Romo “had a game for the ages” against the Broncos. But he understands most people will focus on his quarterback’s failure at the end.
“They will until he wins the Super Bowl,” said Jones. “The guy standing over there on the other sideline or up in the box, John Elway, had those things said about him his entire career. He was a great player and we all know that, and he ultimately got his Super Bowls and they don’t really say that about him anymore. They’re not many better than [Romo], and he has always been for the last several years our best chance to win big.”
He also gives the Cowboys their best chance to lose in epic fashion. Romo reminded everyone Sunday that he can be one of the most prolific passers in the game. Unfortunately, he also reminded us why he’s one of the biggest enigmas in sports.
He still has time to alter his legacy, but the clock is ticking…