Tony Romo, at times, simply can’t win.
Heck, even when he wins, the spunky Romo, who has been a lightning rod for praise and criticism since he became the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback in 2006, can’t win.
Just days before Sunday night’s crucial matchup between the Cowboys (5-4) and the New Orleans Saints (6-2) at the Superdome, Romo found himself being peppered with questions about the Cowboys’ lack of rushing attempts in last week’s 27-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Romo engineered a nine-play, 90-yard drive, throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dwayne Harris with 35 seconds left to win the game.
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It was Romo’s 19th comeback victory of his career, extending his team record that long ago surpassed the likes of Captain Comeback himself, Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach.
Romo was at the business end of question after question about the Cowboys’ 51-9 pass-run ratio and whether he was changing too many runs to passes at the line of scrimmage.
“I don’t care,” he said. “We won the football game. You can say whatever you want. It doesn’t really bother me. It’s about winning the games. If you’re worried about things other than that, then you’re not in the right job as a player or a coach. Our football team takes that approach every week.
“Like we’ve said 50 times, everyone wants balance. We want it as well. We’re going to want to find that balance. We’re going to need it. It will help everybody and things will be easier. At the same time, you have to call a game to win.”
Ironically, winning is the only thing that was supposed to placate the Romo critics who routinely countered talk about him holding every team passing record with his supposed inability to win games or play well when it mattered most.
Yet, this time he won, in comeback fashion even, and it still prompted questions.
Romo doesn’t care.
He knows until he wins big, as in playoff games and possibly a Super Bowl, nothing will be good enough for a team and a fan base that measures success and quarterbacks by championships.
If the Cowboys are to achieve that success, especially this season, it will be behind the play of Romo.
With no confidence in the running game, the Cowboys have gone from Romo-friendly to Romo-centric on offense.
The Cowboys have had 346 passes to 183 runs this season. The Cleveland Browns are the only team that has attempted more passes, and only five teams have attempted fewer running plays.
Owner Jerry Jones has no problem with that because his confidence in Romo is unwavering.
He felt that way when he signed the 11-year veteran quarterback to a $108 million contract extension, including $55 million in guaranteed money, in the off-season while demanding Romo get Peyton Manning-like influence in the offense.
And he feels that way now after Romo has gotten off to arguably the best start of his career, completing 229 of 346 passes for 2,553 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions through nine games. He is first in the league in attempts, second in completions, third in touchdowns and fifth in passer rating.
“Make no mistake about it, Tony is excellent,” Jones said. “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.”
And while the Cowboys want to run more and be more balanced, the alternative right now certainly isn’t a ground attack that averages 75.7 yards per game and ranks 27th in the league.
“[Romo] certainly has broad shoulders,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “He is comfortable throwing the ball. He is playing at a very high level right now. He handles it fine. We do need to get our running game better. At the end of the day, you want to play sound football and would like to have a good healthy mix. The best way to do that is to hand the ball off. But is Tony capable of carrying us like he did last week? Yes, he showed that. He was productive and he took care of the ball.”
The Cowboys will go into Sunday night’s game with the Saints with a plan to be balanced and establish the run. New Orleans has the 25th-ranked run defense in the league.
But the Cowboys are not going to bang their heads against the wall trying to run when it doesn’t work. Having negative runs only puts more pressure on Romo. The Cowboys forced the run against the Lions two weeks ago and lost. They moved away from the run when it didn’t work last week against the Vikings and won.
“We are trying to win the football game, first and foremost,” Romo said. “The balance, throwing, running, no one in this locker room cares whether we run it 50 times or throw it. We just want to win.”
And when it comes to trying to win, the Cowboys are putting their faith in Romo more than ever.
“We have a great amount of faith and trust in Tony Romo,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s a really good football player and has been for a long time. We’ve been in a lot of these different situations with him and he typically comes through for us in a real positive way.”
He did that last week against the Vikings and has done that all season to help power a Cowboys team that has been injury riddled on defense on the way to a 5-4 record and first place in the NFC East.
While Romo still has critics in Dallas, he still has an admirer in Saints coach Sean Payton.
It was Payton who helped convince then-coach Bill Parcells to sign Romo in 2004 as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois, Payton’s alma mater. Payton was on the Cowboys’ staff as passing game coordinator from 2003-05.
He was already with the Saints as head coach when Romo was named the starter in 2006, but Payton has watched his progression from afar. He says he’s never seen Romo play better than he has so far in 2013 in terms of production and decision-making.
“He’s having, I think, the best year of his career this season, right now,” Payton said. “Just having a chance to watch three games myself on that side of the ball, he’s been very good in regards to his decision-making. He knows pre-snap where he wants to go. He’s got a very quick way of getting through his progressions, and the ball comes out extremely fast. He’s very comfortable.”
Comfortable with the criticism, comfortable as the focal point of the offense and comfortable being the Cowboys’ best chance.
Too much Romo?
Before the season, the Cowboys said they wanted more involvement from Tony Romo. They also said they wanted more balance in the offense. Here’s the result so far:
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