In the wake of his single mistake that ruined his historic passing day, Tony Romo has tons of critics irrationally calling him a choker. He doesn’t need his head coach joining the dog pile.
After the scintillating 51-48 loss to the Broncos in the Cowboys’ locker room, owner Jerry Jones said he was in awe of his quarterback’s performance and called it “the best I’ve ever seen him play.” But Jason Garrett? On Monday the coach passed out free pitchforks and torches to Romo haters. Garrett didn’t so much question his quarterback’s throw on the fatal fling that set up Denver’s last-second field goal, but more so the decision.
“You know, I think when you evaluate that, he probably should have come down and thrown the ball to the back,” Garrett said at Valley Ranch. “It’s a play that we know. We’ve seen him make throws like that, in between defenders in the zone, a lot. He made a few of them in this ballgame. But I think when you reflect back on it, you say, when you felt that a little bit of pressure on your left-hand side, kind of slide in the pocket, find DeMarco Murray. It was second and I think 14 or 16 at the time, cut the distance in half, make it a manageable third down and then go from there. You know, those plays happen in split seconds, and you saw something that he liked. He cut it loose. Their defender made a good play. It was a difference-making play of the game.”
What the what?!
Garrett has forgotten more football than I’ll ever know. But were we watching the same play?
Because what I saw was not Romo choking, but desperately trying to make a play when the situation dictated that a play had to be made.
While the only pressure the Cowboys put on Peyton Manning all day was a facemask penalty, Romo spent the afternoon running for his life, getting sacked four times, improvising and generally morphing into Tony Football. On Dallas' last possession he was sacked on first down, setting up 2nd-and-16 from the 14.
As Romo drops back to pass he again gets pressure - right up the middle, right in his face. Critics scream for him to just "eat the ball" and take another sack, because ball security is priority No. 1. And Garrett points out that Murray was open sliding out of the backfield, for what likely would have been a modest gain of 5-7 yards. True, but consider Romo’s thought process.
The game is tied at 48 with two minutes remaining. There's immense, urgent pressure to score, what with Manning and the Broncos' offense having already produced points on nine of 11 drives. Being a conservative bus driver there and taking the sack results in a 3rd-and-24 from your own 6. The dump-off to Murray, at best, leaves you with 3rd-and-10. You don't convert that, you punt and you know how the story ends.
So, knowing he has to make a positive play out of negative situation, Romo steps up to throw a crossing route to tight end Gavin Escobar. There are three Broncos surrounding the rookie target, so it's not a high-percentage pass. But he's open. There's a window, and Romo has been making those throws all day. The play, however, quickly deteriorates.
As Romo starts to stride with his left leg, his left foot trips on the right foot of left tackle Tyron Smith, who has suddenly been shoved into the quarterback's lap. Romo's rhythm is instantly aborted. The stride in which he generates velocity on the ball is short-circuited. (Imagine a pitcher stubbing his toe on the mound during his windup). The ball floats more than zips and its path is yanked slightly left because of aborted smooth step, allowing linebacker Danny Trevathan to make a spectacular diving interception.
Romo’s throw was negatively altered by factors out of his control. Not sure how anyone views that as choking. In basketball terms, he was fouled in the act of shooting. And the dump-off to Murray? Imagine playing golf, being in your backswing and suddenly deciding on the way down to hit a draw instead of a cut. Yeah, right.
Said Garrett, “At the end of the day, I think Tony probably would say, 'I should’ve thrown the ball to the back.' "
If you think Romo choked, so be it. I saw a great player attempting to make a great play in a desperate situation. I can live with that. Apparently his head coach can’t.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently writes a sports/guy stuff blog at DFWSportatorium.com and lives in McKinney with his fiancee, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.