Despite putting up some of the best numbers of any NFL quarterback, Tony Romo has been defined by his costly errors in big games, like the one that cost the Cowboys a playoff win in Seattle in 2007.
Never mind the mounting statistical résumé, which rivals just about any quarterback not named Manning, Brady or Rodgers. Never mind his 14 game-winning drives, or his growing command of the Cowboys’ offense.
When it comes to Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, the storyline (once it gets past Jessica Simpson) invariably comes back to this: He can’t win the big one.
Romo can play with a punctured lung and fractured rib, as he did in leading the Cowboys to an overtime win over the 49ers last September. He can put up the second-best passer rating of all time (97.3, behind only Aaron Rodgers’ 103.9). He can rack up a perfect QB rating in the fourth quarter of last week’s stirring season-opening win over the New York Giants.
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And yet many Cowboys fans still tend to focus on the fourth-quarter gaffes and playoff disappointments that have occasionally marked Romo’s tenure in Dallas. So far, Romo has just one playoff win, and fully recognizes that — like LeBron James, to whom he is sometimes compared — until he leads the Cowboys to a title, the criticism won’t stop. And Romo says he embraces that point of view.
“I don’t think I get an undue amount (of criticism),” Romo said in a conference call Wednesday. “Every quarterback in the league is judged by winning and losing. That’s the way it should be. Our job is to help our football teams win, and eventually win a Super Bowl for the team we’re playing for. I think that’s warranted.”
You can make a strong case that the Romo-coaster embarked on its first stomach-churning voyage right here in Seattle, where Romo returns Sunday for the first time since playing a role in one of the most stirring Seahawk victories — and galling Cowboy defeats — in recent history.
It was Jan. 6, 2007, and for a while, it seemed as though it might be Romo’s rookie coming-out party. Late in the game, with Dallas trailing 21-20 in the wild-card playoff game, Romo drove the Cowboys down the field to the 2-yard line, where Martin Gramatica set up for a 19-yard field goal with 1:19 left.
It was closer than an extra point, the death knell for the Seahawks’ season.
“They had the game in the bag, pretty much,” recalled linebacker Leroy Hill, one of two remaining Seahawk defensive players from that game, along with cornerback Marcus Trufant. “Just a chip-shot field goal… the most simple operation. Just catch, put the ball down, kick. And they messed it up.”
Specifically, Romo messed it up. He fumbled the ball as he was putting it down and had no choice but to grab the ball and take off for the end zone. He got to the 2 before Jordan Babineaux made a diving, touchdown-saving tackle — living up to his moniker, “Big Play Babs.”
“That’s where they got the name,” laughed Trufant. “He made big-time plays at the end of the game, and it was nothing different there. He was at the right place at the right time, and he made it happen.”
Romo, meanwhile, was left disconsolate, fighting back tears after the game.
“I cost the Dallas Cowboys a playoff win,” he told reporters afterward. “It is going to sit with me a long time.”
But not forever. More than 5 ½ years later, Romo views the game as a growth experience.
“Going through the adverse things you go through in football can help build character,” Romo said. “Help learn the process it needs to take to get better and improve as a football team.
“That’s just one of those situations you took as it was, as a disappointing loss. That was very tough at the time. What you do is get better. You go back to work, you put your head down, and you get better.”
In the ensuing years, Romo’s lone playoff win has been a 34-14 victory over the Eagles in January 2010. Romo threw for two touchdowns in that game, but the next week, the Cowboys were blasted by the Vikings, 34-3, with Romo having one interception and no touchdowns.
The Seahawks still see Romo as an accomplished, dangerous quarterback — one who had just 10 interceptions last year, second-lowest of any QB who had at least 500 passes (Rodgers had six).
Trufant noted how Romo “thinks his way through the game,” while coach Pete Carroll said: “He makes so many great decisions. He puts them in the right place so often. He plays like a true pro, an experienced guy that can check and get them out of problems. So it allows them — with (Jason) Witten and Dez (Bryant) and the whole crew — it’s a very, very talented group. It’s as hard a group as we’ll see… This is a really good challenge on offense.”
And for Romo, a return to the scene of one of his worst memories, and a chance to reroute the Romo-coaster.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org