Dallas quarterback Tony Romo wasted no time silencing the doubters -- the Cold, Hard Football Facts high among them -- in his first game without the prolific Terrell Owens as a batterymate.
In fact, Romo responded to the skepticism with what might have been the greatest statistical performance of his short but incredibly productive career, throwing three touchdown passes in a 34-21 Week 1 victory over the suddenly defenseless Buccaneers. He set a career high in passing yards (353), while his 140.6 passer rating and awesome 13.1 yards per attempt were both among his personal bests.
It's easy to understand the logic of the doubters: Owens is a great game-changer, one of the most productive receivers in history who has set receiving records with three franchises. But perhaps we should have given Romo a little more credit. After all, his production is not merely good: It's spectacular.
Just 40 starts into his career, Romo is on pace to challenge or even rewrite the records in some of the most important indicators of quarterbacking success. He's certainly living up to the standards of a franchise that's been consistently blessed for more than 40 years with some of the best field generals in the game. But not even Dallas legends Aikman, Staubach or Dandy Don put up these kinds of numbers.
Romo is still shy of the minimum 1,500 attempts needed to qualify for official NFL records (he's attempted 1,334 passes). He'll reach that milestone some time in October -- and when he does he'll find himself in very elite statistical company.
You might not have noticed (that's what we're here for), but Romo's performance on Sunday propelled him past no less a statistical juggernaut than Peyton Manning and into the No. 2 spot on the all-time passer rating leaderboard. Both players entered Week 1 of the 2009 season with career passer ratings of 94.7. Manning remains at 94.7 today. But with Romo's explosive effort against the Bucs, his career mark improved by a full point to 95.7.
Only Steve Young (96.8) boasts a better career passer rating. But that record is clearly in jeopardy. With two or three more excellent outings, Romo will leap past Young and stand as the most efficient passer in the history of the game. Hard to believe, considering that Romo was an undrafted free agent in 2003 that nobody had heard of as recently as 2006.
Yards per attempt
As Cold, Hard Football Facts followers know, we put a lot of stock in yards per attempt. It's a very easy-to-understand yet telling indicator of an individual's ability to get the ball downfield and a very telling indicator of team success. Generally speaking, the most successful teams and most successful quarterbacks throughout history have boasted the highest average per attempt.
Romo finds himself in very exclusive company in this telling indicator, as well.
Cleveland's Otto Graham is No. 1 on the YPA list (8.63). Not so coincidentally, he was the most successful quarterback in history, leading his Browns to six straight championship games in his six seasons as an NFL quarterback (1950-55), winning three of them. (Graham also led the Browns to four straight championships in the AAFC before the club joined the NFL -- he averaged a stunning 9.51 yards per attempt against that league's inferior competition.)
Chicago's Sid Luckman is No. 2 on the YPA list (8.42). Not so coincidentally, he was the most successful quarterback of the 1940s, virtually inventing the modern position that we know today while leading the Bears to four NFL titles.
Then there's Romo at No. 3. Following Sunday's performance, he has averaged 8.18 yards per pass attempt in his career. To put this figure another way, it makes Romo more effective at getting the ball down field than any passer since Graham hung up the black high-tops 54 years ago.
That's elite company.
For better or for worse, quarterbacks are ultimately measured by the bottom line: wins and losses. In this area, too, Romo is in elite company. He's 28-12 (.700) as a starting quarterback. Among contemporary players, only Tom Brady (88-24; .786) and Ben Roethlisberger (52-20; .722) have won more consistently. (It should be noted that San Francisco's Shaun Hill might someday enter the discussion: he's 8-3 in his 11 starts, a mark of .727.)
Brady and Roethlisberger, of course, are also the only two quarterbacks in the game today with multiple rings in their back pocket. Therein lies the next challenge for Romo, who's 0-2 in his two playoff appearances, and did not play well in either game.
The record books will soon show that he's among the pest passers in the history of the game. But it will take nothing less than a Super Bowl victory or two to truly earn the right to be mentioned among these all-time greats.