Let's just get it out of the way up front because it needs to be said.
Sunday night wasn't all about Tony Romo. It's never all about Tony Romo. There's a defense that couldn't stop Victor Cruz, special teams that couldn't capitalize on a few big blunders by the Giants and an offensive line that rarely does its job particuarly well. All of those things are a big part of why the Cowboys aren't going to the playoffs and, taken over the course of the season, they are bigger reasons than Romo.
But we know that it doesn't really matter how true all of that might be because it always comes back to the quarterback. And there might never have been a more Tony Romo game than the one he played last night.
There was the toughness he's displayed so many times in the past as he took a painkilling injection in his right hand just to get on the field. Romo did that earlier this year when he had broken ribs and the one thing you'll never be able to accuse Romo of doing is shying away from playing in pain.
For a stretch in the third and fourth quarters, there was also the Romo who can move an offense and attack a defense in full bloom. Romo moved the Cowboys 90 yards for their first touchdown at a moment when anything less would have spelled the end of their chances and he brought them within a touchdown a short time later.
That's the good of Romo and it can be very good. But there's also the bad of Romo, exemplified on Sunday night by a skittish first half under pressure and a killer interception after the first Cowboys touchdown, and there's also the mystifying Romo who finds himself on the wrong end of plays that make you wonder if there isn't some invisible glass ceiling that will always thwart him in the end.
Two plays spoke to the existence of such a ceiling on Sunday. The first came in the first half when Romo used his athleticism to evade several Giants pass rushers on a third down before firing a pass to Dez Bryant for a big gain. It looked like the Cowboys were in business right up until you saw the yellow flag thrown becasue Romo was a good two yards past the line of scrimmage when he threw the pass.
Romo's evasion of a sack was brilliant, but while he was dancing he passed on several opportunities to just tuck the ball down and run for the first down. The team needed just five yards, so he made the same mistake again when he threw the ball instead of simply running the rest of the way and keeping the drive alive.
It was the best and worst of Romo all at once. The athletic ability and accuracy undermined by a decision-making process that often resembles a 15-year-old left alone with a full liqour cabinet and a few friends.
Romo can't really be blamed for the other play that brought to mind a cosmic plot to leave him crying in his soup. The attempted quarterback sneak on fourth down near the Giants end zone in the fourth quarter is an easy play to hate in hindsight, but it took a great play by Michael Boley and an iffy spot by the refs to ensure its failure.
Yet, as surely as a botched hold on an extra point or a flurry of interceptions against the Lions, the play still left Romo short of his goal and looking like a player who can't get it done in a big spot. All of the other reasons why the Cowboys lost won't erase the image of Romo pleading with the officials for a better spot, an argument he never had a chance to win for reasons that might well stretch well beyond the field of play.
Romo will get more chances to change the script, but with every brutal disappointment it gets harder to believe that the day is going to come.