It’s open season on Tony Romo.
I get it. I hear you.
His two interceptions in the final 2:46 of the Dallas Cowboys’ 37-36 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday fit perfectly into the Romo narrative.
He can’t win the big one.
He plays his worst when it matters most.
What else needs to be said?
Romo made the two biggest mistakes in what has already been labeled the worst loss in the 53-year history of the franchise.
Never before have the Cowboys lost a game after leading by 20 points at halftime — until Sunday when Green Bay backup quarterback Matt Flynn rallied from a 26-3 halftime deficit.
Romo’s role in the historic meltdown was monumental — most notably the decision to audible out of a run and throw an interception to cornerback Sam Shields that led to the game-winning touchdown — and his critics have come out in full force.
His career record in December dropped to 11-17, and he has had seven games in which he has thrown a pick in the fourth quarter or overtime when the Cowboys were tied or had the lead.
Picking on Romo after a game like that is like going after low-hanging fruit.
But what if I told you that Romo wasn’t the biggest reason for the Cowboys loss?
He’s just the easy scapegoat based on his past failures and the team’s history of heartbreaking losses since he took over as quarterback in 2006.
Here are 10 reasons you can’t blame Romo:
1. The problems in Dallas start at the top with owner Jerry Jones. The team is not only 7-7 this year but has a 135-135 record since 1997. The only common denominator is Jones. He hired the coaches. He picked the players. He set the tone for lack of accountability throughout the organization. He is the one responsible for this mess first and foremost.
2. Coach Jason Garrett is 28-26 since taking over for Wade Phillips in 2010. Most damning is a 4-22 record against teams with a .500 or better record since 2011. The blown 23-point lead was only the second-biggest in franchise history. The worst was a 24-point third-quarter lead to the Detroit Lions in 2011 on Garrett’s watch. Poor game management has been a problem throughout Garrett’s tenure. It was again Sunday.
3. Offensive coordinator and play-caller Bill Callahan’s pass-happy tendencies are all over this debacle. The fact Romo threw 49 passes to just 18 runs is mind-boggling considering the Cowboys had a 23-point lead at halftime. Running back DeMarco Murray rushed 18 times for 134 yards, averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Yet the Cowboys handed off the ball to him only seven times in the second half, just twice on the team’s final three drives. At some point, the play-caller has to consider the game situation and be stubborn and force the run.
4. What more can be said about a defense that is already the worst in team history and is on pace to be one of the worst in NFL history? The Packers scored touchdowns on five consecutive drives in the second half. And this was with Flynn, a backup quarterback starting in place of injured Aaron Rodgers. Flynn has been cut by two teams this season. The Cowboys’ offense stayed aggressive with the pass because they had no confidence in the defense.
5. Injuries are not an excuse, but they are a valid reason for the Cowboys’ struggles, especially on defense. And while the Cowboys had trouble earlier in the season stopping elite quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers and Matt Stafford, now they can’t stop anyone. Flynn was the second consecutive backup quarterback to have his way against the Cowboys because they have players who shouldn’t even be in the league and some who weren’t in the league at the start of the season.
6. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware had only one tackle after promising to be a force on defense. Ware, who was a big reason the Cowboys thought they could be successful in the 4-3, has just six sacks on the season and one in his last four games. Romo is roundly criticized for the Cowboys’ lack of success of late. But Ware, a possible future Hall of Famer, has been riding in the same disappointing cab since 2005.
7. Wide receiver Cole Beasley. The Cowboys still had enough time to drive for a game-winning field goal even after the Packers took the lead. But Beasley ran the wrong route on the final drive, resulting in the game-sealing interception by cornerback Tramon Williams. That was on Beasley, not Romo.
8. The offensive line played a huge role in the Cowboys settling for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns to put the game out of reach early. A red-zone drive in the second quarter was thwarted because of a sack by defensive tackle Mike Daniels when center Travis Frederick missed a block. In the third, a holding penalty on Doug Free slowed another drive that resulted in a field goal.
9. Tight end Gavin Escobar dropped a potential touchdown pass in the first quarter. It might have been tough for him to get both feet down to complete the score, but the Cowboys had no chance of knowing because the disappointing second-round pick dropped what should have been an easy catch on a second-and-goal play at the 5. The Cowboys kicked a field goal.
10. Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews. Yes, the great Clay Matthews. This is a reach. But hey, Romo wouldn’t have been able to throw the game-turning interception to safety Sam Shields on the audibled play if Matthews had sacked him. He went unblocked and had Romo dead to rights but whiffed on the sack as Romo spun away and then threw the unfortunate pass behind Miles Austin into the hands of Shields.
So go ahead and pile on Romo. It’s fun. It’s easy. But when playing the blame game in Dallas, pass some of it around. It’s not just on Romo.