Romo, From Gunslinger to Mr. Efficiency

Tony Romo is putting up big numbers again, closing in on 4,000 yards passing while averaging more yards per attempt than Peyton Manning.

His most impressive number? Zero, as in having no passes intercepted in his last four games and in nine games overall this season.

Put the stats together and the result is what every coach wants: a quarterback who maximizes yards and minimizes turnovers.

"He's not gone to all check-downs or throwing all, quote, safe, short passes," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "That's the hardest part of this kind of streak."

Romo has thrown just seven interceptions this season. Only Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers has a lower percentage of interceptions per attempt; at 1.5 percent, Romo has more than chopped in half last year's 3.1 percent, and that had been the best of his career.

Making it all the more remarkable is that Romo rose to stardom as a caution-be-damned gunslinger whose mistakes were tolerated as a trade-off for all the big plays he made -- and that he came into this season vowing to make wiser, safer decisions.

He claimed to have spent the offseason working on it, which seemed strange because there's no way to simulate those split-second situations with large, angry men chasing you. It especially seemed like a bunch of blather when he threw three interceptions in Week 2.

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But look at what he's done since: Just four interceptions the last 12 games, never more than one in any game. He had a streak of three straight without an interception, which was the best of his career until this current four-game run. He's also on a roll of four straight games with a passer rating over 100, his best since doing it in six straight in 2007.

"I'm doing some things a little differently -- that I'm not going to tell you -- but they've helped me to minimize certain decisions that I've made in the past," Romo said. "That's part of growing up and being experienced on the football field."

As solid as Romo's been, Dallas needs two more clean outings from him.

The Cowboys will win the NFC East and get a home playoff game if they win their last two games. It also would give them a winning record after Thanksgiving for the first time since 1996, which also was the last time they won a playoff game. Anything less than two more wins could keep Dallas (9-5) out of the playoffs.

Romo's reputation would benefit greatly from a late-season surge, too.

Even after pulling off an upset win in New Orleans last weekend, he's 6-12 in December and January, counting two playoff losses. No matter how many or how few interceptions he throws, wins and playoff appearances will always trump interception ratio and any other stat.

Then again, the fewer interceptions he throws, the better Dallas' chance of winning. The Cowboys are 2-3 this season in games he's thrown an interception, 7-2 when he hasn't.

So it really does come back to Romo making the right throws at the right time, and, perhaps even more importantly, avoiding the wrong ones at all times.

"If it's there, you've got to aggressively fire it and let it go," Romo said. "The game's too fast. Things happen in the blink of an eye that you've got to trust what you see and let it go. And if you're not, then your team is not going to be able to consistently put the ball in the end zone."

That's actually the biggest knock on Romo and the Cowboys this season, their inability to turn yards into points.

Despite averaging the third-most yards per game in the NFL (394.5), the Cowboys are 12th in points (22.9). Leading the league in missed field goals (10) is part of the problem, but so is the fact they've kicked so many times (28, tied for 10th).

On Sunday, the Cowboys will be in Washington, facing a Redskins team that's coming off an embarrassing loss and that played Dallas tough last month. In fact, Romo's last interception was against them.

He made the tackle and took a knee in the back, which left him off kilter the rest of the day. The Cowboys wound up getting shut out for 57 minutes until he sucked it up and produced one good drive, pulling out a 7-6 victory.

Romo is over that injury and most other aches and pains. He considers this the healthiest he's been this late in a season.

It's certainly the most accurate.

"Right now, it's strictly about going forward," Romo said. "There's nothing you look back on right now unless it's to better yourself or improve in an area. That's the only approach you can have, to continue to try and reach your goals."

Copyright Associated Press

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