Mac Engel

As the backup, Tony Romo should have played

The Dallas Cowboys led by 21 points with eight minutes remaining in a meaningless game and out onto the field trotted Dak Prescott — for no good reason.

Chants of “Tony” actually came from the stands. With all due respect to Tony Romo’s career and his status, he’s a backup, and the backup quarterback should play in this situation in relief of the starting quarterback. Feelings be damned.

If he can’t be a backup, then give it to Mark Sanchez.

Head coach Jason Garrett can’t go gutless on this team now; if Sanchez had been active, he would have been in there for Dak when the Cowboys’ 42-21 win over the Detroit Lions turned into a blowout.

In New England, where feelings truly do not matter because winning is the priority, the Patriots put Tom Brady on the bench during a blowout on Saturday in favor of the backup — also a guy who played his college ball at Eastern Illinois, just like Romo.

Like Romo said in his famous concession speech many moons ago, this is a “magical” season and the last thing the Cowboys want to do is threaten that with an injury to the player who should be the 2016 NFL MVP (sorry, Zeke).

The only reason Romo did not play in relief for Dak is feelings. If Dak pulls a Derek Carr, the Raiders QB who broke his leg on Saturday, and gets hurt in this situation next week in the regular season finale at Philadelphia, Garrett should resign or be fired.

“Dak was going to play this game,” Jason Garrett said after the game.

Nothing will probably happen in Philly, but if it does … hell hath no fury like a Jerry scorned.

I asked Garrett why he wouldn’t play Romo next week in the regular season finale, but Coach Process didn’t answer it because he doesn’t want to.

If Romo is going to be the backup, he has to play in Philly — at least in the second half.

As good as Romo could be, it’s been decided that the Cowboys are better with Dak as their quarterback; as such, there is no football explanation to have him out there at the end of a blowout in a meaningless game.

It’s not as if there is not precedent for letting Dak sit — this season. The Cowboys were blowing out the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 6 in Cleveland, Sanchez came off the bench for Dak.

Playing to win is the right thing to do by the game and the smart decision for the team, but once the outcome was decided on Monday night against the Lions, the risk of playing Dak was no longer worth the reward.

When Prescott threw his third touchdown pass of the night — in the fourth quarter for a three-touchdown lead — there was little more than 12:12 remaining in the game.

Now, the Lions have been good this season at fourth-quarter comebacks, so leaving Dak in on the following possession can be viewed as a necessary move.

But when Cowboys defensive end David Irving forced a fumble on a nice hit of Lions quarterback Matt Stafford with 4:11 remaining in the game, there was Dak exchanging high-fives with Romo.

There was Dak, retrieving his helmet, and going back into a game.

Why?

If Tom Brady can come out for the backup, as he did in the Patriots’ 41-3 win against the New York Jets, so can Dak Prescott.

The only reason the Cowboys are doing this is to save Romo the perceived embarrassment of being the mop-up guy. Get over it. If Romo is going to be the No. 2, then the Cowboys have to trust him with those responsibilities.

“There’s one way to play,” Garrett said. “You can’t put different meaning. That’s not how we operate.”

It’s not? Then why did backup running back Darren McFadden replace Zeke Elliott in the fourth quarter?

Because the Cowboys didn’t want to risk it with Zeke. Injuries happen in sports, and while you can’t play scared, there is a line.

The Cowboys know this; they were forced to play other defensive linemen because of injuries sustained throughout the game, including to our favorite defensive end, Randy Gregory who in his first game in more than a year sustained an injury.

Starting left tackle Tyron Smith left the game with an injury and was replaced by Emmett Cleary. Smith will return, but he was replaced because there was not a need.

But the starting quarterback, who is either the biggest or second biggest reason why the Cowboys are 13-2 with the NFC locked up, is not worthy of taking a seat for a reliever?

There is no good explanation other than the Cowboys don’t think Romo’s body can hold up, or they simply do not want to “embarrass” him by asking him to do what a backup does — come in at the end of a blowout.

Garrett often likes to say, “Do your job” which should apply to everybody, only right now it looks like it doesn’t.

The Cowboys can’t be scared to ask Tony Romo to do his job because he might not like it; this is indeed a magical season, and there is no reason to risk it over the feelings of the backup.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

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