Gap between Romo and Eli Manning widens

Until the events of Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5, it was possible to argue that Tony Romo was on a par with Eli Manning, maybe even a tad better.

Now that Manning has his second Super Bowl ring, while Romo has just one playoff win on his record, it’s no longer even an argument. The distance between Romo and Manning is now canyon-sized.

The debate is no longer whether Romo is the best quarterback in the NFC East, but whether Manning is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

The events of last week didn’t help Romo’s cause, either. While Manning was hoisting his second Lombardi Trophy in a victory parade, Romo was playing golf with Tiger Woods.

That’s not an image Cowboys fans want to see.

However, it’s not as if giving up golf will make Romo a better quarterback. Just as it’s not true that Manning spends every off-season moment studying defenses and working out with his receivers.

The only way Romo can close the gap between himself and Manning is to get a better team around him.

Based on the regular season, Manning and Romo had similar seasons in 2011. In fact, Romo had a better overall quarterback rating: 102.5 to Manning’s 92.9.
 
Manning threw for 800 more yards, but Romo had six fewer interceptions and two more touchdown passes. Romo also had a better completion percentage: 66.3 percent to Manning’s 61 percent.

Their seasons came down to a head-to-head matchup for a playoff berth in the final game of the regular season, one Romo lost while playing with a bruised and swollen passing hand.

Manning played brilliantly in the postseason while Romo couldn’t shake the image of the critical turnovers he coughed up in losses to Jets and Lions.

Which is why you continue to hear the noise uttered recently by Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw on the NFL Network.

“I don’t see it happening,” Bradshaw responded when asked if the Cowboys will ever win a Super Bowl with Romo. “I don’t think they believe it, and they’re America’s Team. If America’s team don’t believe it …”

When asked to clarify whether “they” meant the Cowboys’ players or fans, Bradshaw added: “It all comes together. If the fans don’t believe it, the team doesn’t. They’re kinda doubtful with Romo.”

Of course, it has to be noted that a sage like Bradshaw might be a bit biased. The Giants barked all season while the Cowboys never really fired back, which speaks to an underlying leadership issue in Dallas.

But anyone who spent last season with the Cowboys knows the respect Romo has among his teammates. They saw him lead a comeback win over the 49ers while playing with a punctured lung. They saw him take painkilling shots before several games after that. They saw him lead down-to-the-wire wins over the Redskins and Dolphins.

What didn’t they see? A defense that can impose its will the way the Giants’ defense did down the stretch. The Cowboys’ defense in 2011 had holes in the secondary and bouts of confusion in its first season under coordinator Rob Ryan.

They also didn’t see a receiver corps make the kind of plays that Manning’s did. Even Eli’s biggest proponents have to admit the spectacular catches of Manningham, Cruz and Nicks made their quarterback look good.

Romo also lost his difference-maker running back, DeMarco Murray, to a season-ending injury when the Cowboys and Giants met the first time in 2011.

None of that matters when often the only measuring stick for quarterbacks is Super Bowl rings, which is a silly concept. Is Eli twice as good as his brother, Peyton? Do you rank the ringless Dan Marino behind Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson?

But the fact remains Eli has pulled off the ultimate achievement twice while Romo has never come close.

When Eli had just one ring, you could argue it was a fluke. When the Giants lost four in a row this season, you could argue Romo was better. When Manning completed just nine of 27 passes against the Jets, you could say Romo was better.

With Manning owning two rings, there is no more argument.

Romo can change that, but he will need the same kind of help Eli got on the way to his titles.

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire