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Tuesday September 13th, 2011

Tony Romo did nothing to shed his reputation of choking Sunday night against the Jets. (Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI)

Every week, we'll take a look at a player or team whose bad performance did the most to raise the stress level of their coach.

Dallas was nine minutes away from an impressive Week 1 win over the Jets in New York. The Cowboys led 24-17 and had the ball on the Jets 2.

And then Tony Romo fell apart.

On third-and-goal, Romo scrambled away from pressure and tried to dive for the end zone, only to fumble and turn the ball over, keeping Dallas' lead at seven. Three minutes later, the Cowboys had the ball back at the Jets 47 following a New York turnover -- they lost 12 yards, with Romo firing two incompletions, and then had their punt blocked and returned for the game-tying touchdown.

Finally, the dagger. Tied at 24 in the final minute, Romo threw a disastrous interception from his own 41, right into the hands of Darrelle Revis. Four plays later, the Jets kicked the eventual game-winning field goal.

Dallas' last-gasp effort to tie or win it included, fittingly, two Romo incompletions and a ball snapped off his stomach while he was calling out instructions to his offensive line.

What in the world went wrong here?

Prior to his red-zone fumble, Romo was 20-of-28 for 309 yards and two touchdowns, methodically picking apart the Jets secondary and dismantling Antonio Cromartie.

After the turnover, Romo went 3-of-8 for 43 yards and the costly interception. The goal-line fumble was a huge mistake, but one you could almost understand given Romo's effort to get to the end zone. The interception to Revis was unforgivable.

“It was a dumb decision, too reactionary,” Romo said of the Revis interception, which set up the game-winning field goal for the Jets. “. . . It’s just disappointing and frustrating right now because we win that football game if I don’t do what I did. It’s hard to swallow just knowing that we lost this game because of me.”

You hate to overanalyze a quote, but maybe Romo's point about the mistake being too reactionary is on to something. In his eighth NFL season and sixth as the Cowboys' starter, Romo should be at a point now where he's thinking the game as well as he's playing it. In other words, Romo has been around long enough that he should not be making huge mental blunders with the game on the line.

And that's what the interception to Revis was: a mental mistake. It wasn't a fluky interception or a bad bounce. Romo had a little bit of pressure from a four-man rush but managed to roll right and buy some time. Then, he just threw it right into Revis' hands.

Dallas fans have seen this before -- who could forget Romo's fumbled snap against Seattle in the playoffs? -- and with every mistake, it becomes harder and harder for Romo to shed the notion that he chokes under pressure. The Cowboys have to hope that stigma hasn't gotten in Romo's head. But he plays like it has.

For a Dallas team with Super Bowl aspirations annually, Romo can't afford to be that mistake-prone quarterback. He must be better. He must be elite. He was for much of the night Sunday. Unfortunately for him, the Cowboys and head coach Jason Garrett, though, when it really counted, Romo again dropped the ball.

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