Romo proves critics wrong in clutch playoff win vs. Lions
ARLINGTON, Texas – As he was being battered by Lions defensive linemen Sunday, Tony Romo harkened to a similar experience in the 2009 playoffs. He was thrown around like a ragdoll by Jared Allen and the Minnesota Vikings in a 34-3 divisional loss.In that game, Romo desperately tried to make plays on his own because it was his only recourse behind a banged-up offensive line. But Sunday, he chose discretion over valor in a 24-20 comeback win over Detroit. The reliable narrative for Romo's career has hit a snag due to his clutch play in what had been the meanest months of his career: December and January. He finished 19-of-31 for 293 yards and two touchdowns, both of which ended up in the hands of Terrance Williams. On the game-winning score, Williams broke off his route in a scramble drill and gave Romo an easy target toward the back of the end zone.
"This game felt eerily similar to the [Vikings game] just by the coverages and the pressures," Romo said. "I didn't do a good enough job [vs the Vikings] of understanding that the game wasn't over early. When I say that, it means keeping your poise. I threw a lot of balls away at guys' feet because I wasn't sure and we weren't going to make the play, or I was under duress. I did that more than anything because I felt like if we didn't give them the ball, they wouldn't run away. They wouldn't get up by enough points to put it away."
Romo was sacked six times Sunday, in part because he was holding onto the ball too long. When he was able to unload the ball, he was taking too many hits. A quick slant to Williams late in the first half turned into a 76-yard touchdown that gave the Cowboys a foothold in the game. But the climb was far from over.
"He's about the most physically and mentally tough guy as I've been around and he demonstrated that today," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Romo. "He stood in there over and over and over again."
This Cowboys team has relied heavily on the running game this season, but the Lions did a great job on DeMarco Murray throughout much of the game. He finished with 75 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, an extremely light load by his standards. Romo was asked to put the team on his back on a day when his star receiver Dez Bryant was held to three catches for 48 yards.
Garrett showed how much faith he has in his quarterback when he went for it on fourth-and-six with six minutes left in the game. As he's done so many times, Romo waited for tight end Jason Witten to come free across the middle. He delivered the ball for a 21-yard gain to give the Cowboys a first down at the Lions' 21-yard line. Garrett could've easily played the field-position game with the ball near midfield, but he decided to be aggressive. That decision is the defining moment of the 2014 season...to this point.
"What kept going through my mind was when you get the chance to go play at the Masters, you don't lay up," Garrett said. "You go after it a little bit. And again, [I have] a lot of confidence in the guys to go out and execute it. They play football better than I swing a golf club."
Maybe that's an apt description when you consider Romo's a scratch golfer who's attempted to qualify for the U.S. Open a few times. Romo said he didn't have to lobby Garrett to go for it in that situation.
"I give credit to Coach Garrett for making that call and going to try to win the football game at that point," Romo said. "It shows that he believes in us. I think he thinks in that situation he wants us on the field to have a chance to win a playoff game."
The success of this team has emboldened a coach who's been pretty conservative in the past. The Cowboys went for it on fourth-and-1 early in a win over the Chicago Bears and then recovered an onside kick in Washington. With middle linebacker Rolando McClain sidelined with a concussion and Bruce Carter also hobbled, Garrett didn't want to ask too much of his defense. And that's why he put the game in the hands of the quarterback he's defended so many times in the past.
Romo wanted no part of the "vindication" storyline after the game, but he admitted to having a different feeling about this team than the one that lost to the Vikings five years ago.
"That was easy to go away at that game," Romo said of the loss to Minnesota. "It was too hard, they've got our number, and they are really good. They have everything going their way. If you are mentally tough enough, and you've been through it, and I think experience helps you, you just get rid of those thoughts and understand that this game is going to go all the way to the end."
This team doesn't feel like it's playing with house money. The Cowboys won all eight road games and won't be intimidated by playing at historic Lambeau Field. There will be plenty written about the Ice Bowl (1967), but it's not like this year's team will be trying to avenge that defeat.
The Cowboys survived a home playoff game against the Lions. Now, they look forward to putting their unbeaten road record to the task.
This team has a shot at doing something special. Especially if officials continue picking up flags.
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