IRVING -- The case for or against late-season Tony Romo is going to gain evidence Sunday night.
He's either clutch in December or he's not. He can either win in December or he cannot.
No set of numbers besides the score in the showdown for the NFC East championship against the Washington Redskins is going to change anyone's mind.
Not even that Romo has thrown 29 touchdowns to four interceptions since 2009 in the month of December. Or 18 to one in the past two Decembers. Or 10 to one this December.
Instead, the score will matter more for the reputation of the Cowboys' quarterback. It makes it easy for him, like his critics, to brush off the December numbers.
"Statistically, I'm sure it looks like it," he said Thursday, asked if he is better now than at the start of the year. "But as a player, no. I'd say I've improved. You're always improving.... That's the No. 1 goal, your winning and playing in a season. It's to win every game, and then in the process keep improving."
Improved or not, Romo has turned his season around. He had thrown nine touchdowns to 13 interceptions in the first seven games. In the last eight, the ratio is 17-to-3.
"There's a lot of things that go into that," Romo said of the turnaround. "It's easy, obviously, to pinpoint the two games that I threw picks earlier in the year, and obviously the turnovers. Turnovers matter -- part of winning and losing tremendously. But I think we're doing a lot of things better. We're doing the little things better, stuff that we didn't do earlier in the year, and that's helped us a lot."
Coach Jason Garrett said numbers don't tell everything about Romo's play, but the touchdown-to-interception ratio is hard to deny.
"I think that's a pretty decent gauge of a guy being able to make plays and minimize bad plays," Garrett said. "Troy Aikman never had many touchdown passes because Emmitt Smith led the league in rushing touchdowns every year. So different offenses have different approaches when they get down close. Some offenses throw a lot in the red zone, some run it more. You can look at these things a lot of different ways. I do think, as a basic gauge, it's a pretty decent one for a quarterback."
Another basic gauge is wins. The Cowboys are 3-1 under Romo's guidance this December, a month roiled by the death of a teammate. That speaks well for him. But the Cowboys are still only 11-14 in his December starts.
"The evolution as a quarterback, you just get better over the years," Romo said. "I think more than anything, I'm a completely different player than I was four, three, two years ago. I look back and laugh at that guy who played in some of those games then. But I like what our team is doing now. I think it will be a great game this week, and I'm excited about going up there and playing the Washington Redskins."
The people around Romo, even opponents, do not need to be convinced of his ability down the stretch.
"You look at the way he's been playing lately, he's been playing as good a football as any quarterback in the league these last four, five ballgames," veteran Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. "You look at all the numbers, all the plays that he's made, and then Dez Bryant playing the way he's playing, Jason Witten playing the way he's playing -- you got guys that are playing some great football. But it definitely starts with Tony."
Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley said the players around Romo are now playing up to his ability.
"He's always been the best player on offense for us, and we've just got to step up and make plays," Beasley said. "That's going to decide whether he has a good game or not. Because if we don't make plays, he's not going to have good games. The line is stepping up and protecting him a little better. The receivers are not making as many mistakes. We're getting open, and we're making plays when we get open."
Romo could very well be a 5,000-yard passer for the season, only the fifth in NFL history, by the time the game is over on Sunday. He might have thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions.
But without a win, Romo's season will be seen as incomplete. Witten said everyone understands reality.
"We wouldn't be in this situation without him," Witten said. "He's an elite quarterback, and really, all elite quarterbacks handle that and deal with that until they do go and do it.... He has high expectations for himself, and he's really put the team on his back for the majority of this season. I do think he embraces it. He's humble about it. He's got high expectations, and hopefully we can help him out in doing that and eliminating all that talk."
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760