Jason Witten looks over at Tony Romo’s locker and sees his friend sitting there, facing the cameras.
He knows what the questions are about.
Another big mistake by the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback on a big stage. His fourth-quarter interception last week set up the game-winning field goal in the 51-48 loss to Denver, a stumble played out in front of the entire country.
Just like the three interceptions in the Week 17 loss last year to Washington that kept the Cowboys out of the playoffs and the fumble and interception that cost the Cowboys in Week 1 two years ago against the New York Jets, it was a clutch moment squandered, adding to the big-game stigma that follows his best friend.
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Witten would do anything to change it.
“You look at it like a brother,” he said. “You want it so bad. This is a tough league, though. Nobody feels sorry for you in those situations.”
Including, apparently, Romo.
What he wanted to talk about to the cameras Thursday at Valley Ranch was the Redskins, this week’s opponent.
But he had to be dying for another chance to prove himself in the clutch, a chance he might get Sunday night against the Redskins.
“He’ll get a lot more opportunities, and we’ll be on the other end of them,” Witten said.
Romo is actually the highest-rated passer in NFL history in the fourth quarter. But until he can win a championship, or maybe a handful of playoff games, he will carry that stigma with him.
“That’s everybody’s goal, to win the Super Bowl, and unless you do it, you’re always going to have people second-guessing you. And John had that as well,” said Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, the coach of the Broncos when Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway finally won his first Super Bowl in his 15th season. “When he did win the two in his last couple of years back-to-back, that quickly went away. Until you do it, you’re always going to have that tag.”
The book on Romo is that he will put up big numbers but make a big mistake.
But in the eyes of his teammates, and certainly owner Jerry Jones, the undrafted quarterback out of Eastern Illinois remains the Cowboys’ best option to win.
“Make no mistake about it: Tony is excellent,” Jones said on his radio show last week. “And he gives us our very best chance of winning a Super Bowl. A lot of people say, ‘Well, Jerry, shame on you for making that our very best chance.’ I like trying to get there the way we’re trying to get there better than the alternative.”
Dez Bryant, who has caught 28 touchdown passes from Romo in less than four seasons, says Romo has disproved what he ever heard of him.
“Even when I was in college, you know, I used to hear things,” Bryant said. “And I always thought Tony was a great quarterback, and he still is to this day. He’s a leader. He’s the leader of our football team. As soon as things go right, everybody will be praising him.”
Romo believes he is going to get that chance.
“The great thing about sports is you get to compete and you don’t always succeed and you don’t always fail,” he said. “The thing about it that’s great is that you just got to keep getting better, and if you keep getting better, eventually you’ll achieve your goals or give yourself the best chance to do that.”
Romo impressed his teammates by coming back to work last week as if nothing had happened.
“I don’t think any quarterback in the NFL takes the criticism, takes as much criticism, as he takes, and he still goes out there and acts like he hasn’t heard anything,” Bryant said. “I know he heard. But he doesn’t let it get to him. He goes out there and he performs the best way he possibly can.”
Witten said that is what he has come to expect from his friend over the years.
“That’s one of the greatest traits he has as a player,” Witten said. “He’s as composed as anyone I’ve ever been around. Unfortunately, like most good quarterbacks, he’s found himself in this situation before. He really doesn’t blink at it.
“A lot of times, as professional athletes, you think those are some of the most mentally tough people you know. I think he exemplifies it. This week was no different.”