NFL Myth-busting: Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys Are America’s Chokers
By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)
This week we have prepared a quartet of NFL myths that may not all be brand spanking new, but they reared their ugly heads often during 2012 and want us to believe they are going to have an impact on the upcoming 2013 season.
This week’s first myth looked at the numbers behind the trend that is the read-option, specifically looking at how it helped the Carolina Panthers’ offense more than the myth that it hurt them.
The second myth tore down the narrative of the heroic running back grinding through loaded fronts with eight or more defenders in the box because no one respects his passing game.
The third myth took the focus off Peyton Manning’s arm and onto the problems that really hurt Denver in the playoff loss to the Ravens.
We finish the week with America’s favorite target for criticism. You knew this wasn’t going to end without some of Captain Comeback’s clutch myth-busting.
Myth No. 4: Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys Are America’s Chokers
All those years of front-running have not treated Dallas kindly as the rest of America loves to revel in the Cowboys’ misery. It has not been glory-hole days in Dallas for Jerry Jones in quite some time now.
You cannot make it through a TV segment or article without someone bashing their psyche as a team of chokers. It’s gotten so bad that the obvious merits of Tony Romo are rarely recognized anymore.
On the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2013, Romo failed to make the list that included 14 quarterbacks.
Apparently Romo’s lone playoff win happened so long ago it’s been erased from memory, or it’s just Donovan McNabb (the guy Romo beat) forgetting again.
Romo can’t even avoid a dig from a fantasy football preview with NFL Network’s Michael Fabiano: “While he hasn’t been the best quarterback in the clutch, he can be a major asset in fantasy leagues.” That’s cold coming from a fantasy geek.
NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks kept it going this week with a comparison of Philip Rivers and Tony Romo, two quarterbacks the Cold, Hard Football Facts have thoroughly compared before. They just so happen to be the last two quarterbacks to gag away a 24-point lead at home: Romo to the 2011 Lions, Rivers to the 2012 Broncos.
Brooks gave Romo the edge in athleticism and arm talent, but ultimately chooses Rivers as the better quarterback based on leadership and “based on his outstanding performance in the clutch throughout his career.”
It all just goes to show that even in the offseason, Romo and the Cowboys can’t win.
We have picked up the slack from Terrell Owens in defending “our quarterback” Tony Romo. It’s not always the easiest job, but someone has to do it.
The facts show Dallas as a competitive, sometimes clutch team in recent seasons. Since the original look at Romo’s history in the clutch from nearly two years ago, all he’s done is the following:
- Led nine fourth-quarter comeback wins (2nd behind Eli Manning’s 10) since 2011.
- Led nine game-winning drives (3rd behind Eli’s 11 and Matt Ryan’s 10) since 2011.
- Since 2011, a record of 9-10 (.474) at game-winning drive opportunities (would rank No. 8 among active players with a minimum of 10 games).
- Dallas had a fourth-quarter lead or tie in eight of those 10 losses.
While many bash Dallas for choking, the Cowboys were a very resilient team last season after starting 3-5. The only reason they were in playoff contention in Week 17 was a league-high five comeback wins in the fourth quarter in 2012.
Would a team of chokers do that?
Dallas even erased a 23-0 deficit at home to the Giants in Week 8 before losing in the fourth quarter. Dez Bryant was literally inches away from delivering an all-time great game-winning touchdown in that game. When a team like the 49ers went down big at home to the Giants last year, they lost 26-3.
Dallas came up a play short in Baltimore against the eventual champions. Dan Bailey missed a 51-yard field goal with two seconds left in a 31-29 loss.
Romo’s five comebacks in 2012 are a franchise record for a season. His 18 career fourth-quarter comeback wins set the new Cowboys record, surpassing Troy Aikman (16) and Roger Staubach (15).
Romo became the first quarterback in team history to lead three consecutive comebacks and game-winning drives in Weeks 13-15. He followed that up with a 14-point comeback in the final 4:45 to force overtime with New Orleans before going on to lose 34-31.
The nine-point comeback Romo led in Cincinnati was the only time the Bengals allowed 20 points in their final nine games.
But it’s that Week 17 disappointment on another big, national stage that people are going to remember. Like clockwork, Romo had one of his worst moments when the Nielsen ratings were at their highest. His interception late in the fourth quarter (against that same blitz Washington kept using) with Dallas trailing 21-18 was a killer.
Even in that game, Dallas trailed 21-10 with 10:32 to play after the defense again failed to stop Washington’s running game. Romo was put in great field position after a big punt return. He could have thrown an incompletion to set up a field goal that maybe would have presented a less interesting finish where he would receive less blame, but he threw the touchdown to Kevin Ogletree and converted on the two-point try.
Now we had a ballgame at 21-18 and all eyes on Romo with 3:33 left. After an incredible late-season run in the fourth quarter to get this far, he saved one of his worst plays for the second snap of the drive.
All the hard work put in, all the successful drives were wasted with one snap. Romo just further secured his national choker status.
This continues to be Romo’s problem. He’s good enough, often great even, to put Dallas in these positions to do something, but it just seems like the errors come when everyone’s watching.
If only he could choke when few are watching like a few other quarterbacks have mastered.
Romo vs. Rivers & Company
Romo’s clutch track record is too good to only remember the bad plays. His records at comebacks and game-winning drive opportunities put him favorably, compared to reputation, among today’s active players (minimum 10 games), especially the likes of Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers:
A choker with those numbers at No. 12? Really?
Unlike some quarterbacks on the list, Romo has not padded his overall record with game-winning drives when it was just tied. A whopping 18 of his 19 clutch wins (94.7 percent) have included a comeback. That’s the highest rate for anyone on the list with at least five wins. We also know he’s been let down by teammates in several losses.
Let’s not forget Romo’s 100.7 career passer rating in the fourth quarter and overtime (playoffs included) is the highest among all quarterbacks since 2000 (minimum 150 attempts).
We know Romo isn’t a caretaker. He has thrown for 300 yards a total of 40 times and has 48 games with a passer rating over 100.0 (minimum 15 attempts). His 7.94 yards per attempt is the seventh highest in NFL history.
Romo has seven straight seasons with a passer rating of at least 90.0 (minimum 200 attempts). Only Steve Young (1991-98) and Peyton Manning (2003-10) have ever done that. Romo’s 95.6 passer rating is fifth all time.
In the one season Romo had a top 10 defense (2009), he won a playoff game. That’s probably not a coincidence.
He’s historically productive, efficient, wins more than he loses and he has rare skills to buy time in the pocket and make big plays.
The fact that Brooks acknowledged Romo’s 19 game-winning drives, but still put Rivers ahead of him for “outstanding performance in the clutch” just shows the anti-Romo bias many either willingly hold or have embedded into their brain.
We have yet to fully sink our teeth into the choking dog Rivers has become, but just consider these incredible facts:
- Rivers has gone an unfathomable 2-19 (.095) at game-winning drive opportunities since losing in the 2009 playoffs to the Jets.
- In those 19 losses, Rivers has turned the ball over 16 times (11 interceptions and five lost fumbles) in the fourth quarter or overtime with a 0-8 point deficit.
- In his last 27 games (close or not), Rivers has 13 turnovers in clutch situations.
In Romo’s 27 losses with a failed game-winning drives in his career, he has a total of 10 turnovers (nine interceptions, one lost fumble) in clutch situations.
Even if we count the infamous botched snap on the field goal in Seattle, that’s 11, or two fewer for his career than Rivers has had since October 23, 2011. It has been uncanny how Rivers turns the ball over with such consistency in these situations the last few years.
Both quarterbacks made their first start in 2006. Rivers has a total of 22 turnovers (16 interceptions and six lost fumbles) in the clutch in 36 losses with a failed game-winning drive. So it’s 22 against 10. There is no comparison here.
For reference, here’s a list of the 10 Romo turnovers in the clutch in a loss:
Tony Romo's 10 Career Turnovers in the Clutch (Losses)
Fumbles (sacked); DET recv. at DAL 13
INT w/2:50 left (B.Dawkins)
INT w/0:09 left (R.McQuarters)
Pick six w/1:40 left (D.Townsend)
INT returned to DAL 1 (A.Verner)
INT w/0:38 left (S.Tulloch)
INT w/7:33 left (E.Henderson)
INT w/0:49 left (D.Revis)
INT w/1:03 left (S.Brown)
INT w/3:00 left (R.Jackson)
This includes one playoff game (2007 Giants) and two prime-time games (2011 Jets and 2012 Redskins). Four more of the games (2007 Eagles, 2008 Steelers, 2010 Vikings, 2012 Vikings) were the nationally-featured late-afternoon game.
Romo has his flaws and bad moments, but to say he’s worse in the clutch than Rivers or someone like Cam Newton, well that’s just lies and rubbish. He at least has kept his team relevant in Week 17 the last two years. The Chargers have not been relevant at the end of the regular season since that 2009 playoff loss.
Dallas also has not made the playoffs since 2009, but going forward, we trust Romo to lead his team there before quite a few quarterbacks in this league.
Romo: The Only Undrafted QB Criticized Like a No. 1 Pick
In a league filled with top 40 picks at quarterback, we should be celebrating Romo as one of the best undrafted quarterbacks in NFL history. His success story should be something young kids hold onto as they dream to make it in the NFL one day.
Instead he gets held to the harshest of standards that not even some recent No. 1 picks who were drafted to be saviors fall under.
Michael Vick has been at worst a scumbag off the field and at best an average quarterback on it, yet he’s thieved his way into multiple contracts worth $100 million. No quarterback has ever cost more to produce less. The last time he played a big game he forced a game-ending interception in the playoffs against Green Bay. At least when Romo did that in 2007 NFC Divisional against the Giants it was on 4th-and-11 at the 23.
Matthew Stafford is extremely rich (again) with an extension that includes $43 million guaranteed. He’s only 1-23 against teams with a winning record in his career. That’s mostly come after his first two years where he missed 19 games due to injuries. Hell, Romo is the only quarterback ever to beat two undefeated teams (7-0 or better). Both teams (2006 Colts and 2009 Saints) won the Super Bowl.
God forbid Sam Bradford gets an extension like that at his current pace. In three years with St. Louis, he is 2-21-1 (.104) when the Rams allow more than 17 points. Romo is 23-37 (.383) when that happens to Dallas.
That top 100 list included players with essentially one season as a starter with Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III all getting the nod over Romo. Maybe you pick all four over Romo for the future, but based on career it’s too early.
The real joke is Cam “Super $cam” Newton ranking 46th and still convincing people his inefficient, volume-heavy seasons with a historic number of failures in the clutch means he’s living up to the No. 1 pick.
Rivers and Newton make Romo look like Joe Montana in the clutch. At least Rivers used to be good. Newton has proved nothing so far. Let’s see how long he gets before people stop giving him excuses. Romo was bashed for starting 0-2 in the playoffs after coming out of nowhere in 2006.
Why do we not hold quarterbacks who actually entered the league with huge expectations more accountable when they fail to live up to the standard? That doesn’t describe Romo.
Oh that’s right. It’s because it’s “America’s Team.” Yet Anthony Wright, Chad Hutchinson and Quincy Carter weren’t good enough to matter in Dallas. Carter even made the playoffs in 2003.
By losing in prime time in Week 17 with the NFC East on the line for the second-straight year, Romo and the Cowboys continue to give the haters just enough ammunition. That lasting impression of the season is all those people need, because they don’t care about the full picture.
If Romo choked like Rivers in an early afternoon game played in Week 10 between what would be two 7-9 teams, people just wouldn’t care. Not even if the interception was as horrific as the one Rivers threw in Tampa Bay.
Romo is the NFL’s best modern-day example of “damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.”
Nothing short of a Super Bowl MVP season would make detractors realize this is a really good quarterback on a not so good team. The problem is Romo can never be a Super Bowl MVP without a better team around him.
That is no different for Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, who only won a Super Bowl when their defense stepped up with several critical takeaways and stops in the postseason.
Since they did, the national media ignores the fact that Rodgers is 0-18 at fourth-quarter comebacks against teams .500 or better in his career. They ignore that Brees has made the playoffs five times in 12 years and has 20 turnovers in the clutch in losses.
Those quarterbacks get the pass because they have the “precious” ring. Why someone like Rivers gets a pass is a mystery.
No one’s trying to put Romo in the Hall of Fame or on the same pedestal as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but the facts remain that he’s very good and gets held to one of the more ridiculous standards in the league.
There are other quarterbacks blowing games more often than Romo, and there aren’t as many giving their team a chance to win so often.
At the Cold, Hard Football Facts, we will continue to pay attention to every game and not just the ones called by Al Michaels. If you do that, you will see how silly it is to continue bashing one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league who annually is the biggest reason Dallas has a chance to be relevant late in the season.
As we have said all week: Don’t believe the hype. The truth comes from the facts.
For some reason, the facts in “Big D” have been awful small for others to find.
Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. Tony Romo actually is his quarterback. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.
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