Dallas Cowboys

Like it or not, the Cowboys go as Tony Romo goes

Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys legend.

There, I said it.

This is not jet lag. This is not about drinking some funny tea in London.

This is about accepting the truth about the best quarterback in Cowboys history not named Troy Aikman or Roger Staubach.

There was a time when the notion of calling Romo a legend was considered blasphemous. There supposedly is no legendary status without rings. That’s always been my stance as well.

It’s certainly one that has credence, especially regarding a franchise rich in championship tradition with Hall of Famers Staubach and Aikman as the standard.

Despite owning all of the team’s major passing records, Romo remains ringless and his late-season failures have been a huge part of the Cowboys’ struggles since he took over as the starting quarterback in 2006.

But let’s be real, Jerry Jones, as owner and general manager, has been the common denominator in the Cowboys’ woes since the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s.

His salary cap management is the reason those teams essentially fell off a cliff after the last Super Bowl title in 1995.

Rather than blame Romo for the Cowboys’ inability to win big over the past decade, maybe he should be given credit for keeping the Cowboys in contention and relevant, in spite of Jones.

Consider the team’s state and fate following the retirement of Troy Aikman in 2000 and Romo’s rise in 2006.

Consider the litany of abject quarterback play between Aikman and Romo — Quincy Carter, Clint Stoerner, Anthony Wright, Drew Henson, Chad Hutchinson, Ryan Leaf, Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe.

Now imagine life without Romo over the past 10 years and what the record would be.

If you think it’s easy to find a quarterback in the draft, consider the Cleveland Browns and their carousel of failed draft picks.

That notion came full circle last week when backup quarterback Brandon Weeden started for the injured Romo and was exposed as a 2012 Cleveland draft bust.

More important, and still more than ever, the Cowboys go as Romo goes.

Running back DeMarco Murray is threatening to break the NFL’s single-season rushing record and is a leading contender for the NFL MVP honors.

But he couldn’t get it done without Romo in a 28-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Same with game-breaking receiver Dez Bryant, who might be the team’s best and most talented player.

Romo is still the proverbial straw that stirs the drink. That was proven again in the 31-17 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in London.

Romo completed 20 of 27 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns and a passer rating of 138.8. He was accurate. He was efficient. He made plays.

But mostly he was a leader and is the Cowboys’ leader.

His presence makes a difference on the field and in the locker room — no matter what the critics who only look at the bottom line might think.

Romo’s cachet with his teammates only grew after his ability to play through two painful fractures in his back against the Jaguars.

“Tony is a competitor,” Bryant said. “And us, talking about our teammates, including myself, whenever you see that it just makes you want to get out there and work just as hard.

“We all know the deal. And a lot of times he plays [in pain] like it doesn’t even faze him. So we’ve just got to try to do that too.”

Romo just considers it part of doing his job.

It’s all about winning, and the Cowboys are 7-3.

Romo has the best chance over the final six games to make a Super Bowl run and change his narrative.

He knows some people will never consider him elite and dismiss his numbers as hollow if he never reaches a Super Bowl, let alone wins one.

What should be realized is that the Cowboys would have no shot without Romo.

What is no longer in doubt is Romo’s status as a Cowboys legend.

Appreciate him. Cherish him.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram