Thanksgiving in Arlington provides the NFL with an entertaining matchup of undefeated teams: The 10-0 Panthers and the 3-0 Cowboys.
With their starting quarterback, that is.
After a long, losing two months without Tony Romo, it took him one game to remind us that he is – critics be damned – one of the elite quarterbacks. Best example? He made the Cowboys a better all-around team in Sunday’s win in Miami.
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Not sure exactly how Romo’s return woke up linebacker Rolando McClain or how it seemed to send Tyron Smith into his worst game of the season, but Romo’s positive impact was wide-spread:
Receivers – He completed passes to eight different receivers, including touchdowns to outside weapons Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams. The latter virtually disappeared in Romo’s absence while backups Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel failed to get the ball downfield. When defenses can’t key on one target, it obviously makes the Cowboys more difficult to defend.
Darren McFadden – Since the Dolphins actually feared Romo throwing deep, they couldn’t afford to send an extra defender near the line of scrimmage to stop the run. It’s a strategy, more than anything else, that stagnated Dallas’ offense without Romo. But Sunday, with a little breathing room, the offensive line began to resemble its dominating form of 2014. McFadden and new backup Robert Turbin ran hard and found holes, amassing a combined 164 yards on 36 carries.
Jason Garrett – With the luxury of a quarterback who can put points on the board and overcome a tad of adversity, the head coach was a little more confident and a lot more aggressive. Going for 4th-and-1 near midfield in the 1st quarter was something he wouldn’t have dared to try without No. 9 in the game.
Scott Linehan – The offensive coordinator was able to dust off all the pages of the playbook. Even better, he was armed with the confidence that Romo – with his array of animated audibles up against a dwindling play clock – would run the right play against the right defense.
Defense – Other than the hiccup against the Eagles, Rod Marinelli’s unit played winning football without Romo. The Cowboys allowed only one offensive touchdown in three of the seven losses. But against Miami, they also enjoyed a soothing dose of Romo. Mostly, as was the case last year, they weren’t on the field as much. Part of that was the inept play of Dolphins’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and part was due to the improved Cowboys’ offense that ran the ball, converted first downs and dominated time of possession. With Romo guiding Dallas’ offense, the Dolphins had the ball for only 21:10 on Sunday, and ran only 41 offensive plays compared to 38:50 and 68 for Dallas. More times than not, that’s a recipe for a win.
Romo still has his detrimental habit of trying to make too much out of too little. Both of his interceptions were bad throws, born out of worse decisions under severe duress. But there’s no doubt that he gives the Cowboys a legitimate chance to win every game against any opponent.
The Cowboys haven’t lost this season when No. 9 starts. And, of course, the Panthers are undefeated with Cam Newton under center.
One of those streaks will be broken Thursday. And, suddenly, it’s not too outlandish to think it will be Dallas’ streak that continues.
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 lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.