hasn't always been great in critical situations, but he hasn't always had help either. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
It’s unclear why former NFL defensive lineman Travis Johnson felt the need to go all medieval on Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo during a recent appearance on CSN Houston, but the first-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2005 most certainly did so.
“When Tony Romo got to Dallas he had everything around him and was a loser,” Johnson said. “At one time he had five Pro Bowlers on the offensive line. They have no passing game, so nobody’s worried about the run.
“Tony Romo has not earned a dollar he’s been given in this league … he is a thief. They need to bring him up on federal charges right now. He don’t even have a ski mask on. I’ll tell you right now, if a man robs you with no ski mask on, he’s going to kill you. That’s exactly what he’s doing, he’s killing the franchise. He’s not worried about witnesses at all. He’s killing the franchise right now. There’s 75,000 witnesses and nobody’s going to testify against him.”
If that’s the case, well, bad news for the Cowboys, as they signed Romo to a six-year, $108 million contract extension in late March. Johnson’s opinion (see the video below for his full comments) is the most extreme and puerile version of the stigma that has dogged Romo throughout his career -- the idea that he chokes in key situations.
The truth, so far as anyone would choose to parse it, it a bit different. If you’re into fourth-quarter comebacks as the ultimate indicator of “QB clutchiness,” well, Romo tied with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan for the most fourth-quarter comebacks in the 2012 season, and his comebacks and game-winning drives rank right up there with the elite over the last few years.
If you’re into more advanced metrics, consider this: In four of the last five seasons, Romo has an above-average DVOA (Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted per-play efficiency metric) in late and close situations (any play in the second half or overtime when the score is within eight points). The 2010 season is the only exception, and in the other four seasons, Romo’s DVOA is actually higher in those situations than overall. And if you choose to argue that Romo melts under the brightest spotlights, consider that he has one of the best Quarterback DVOA rankings in nationally televised games since 2008.
And this is a guy stealing from his team? Perhaps that designation could be given to an individual who signed a first-round contract and went on to start 38 games and amass 102 tackles over six seasons for two teams, as Johnson did.
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As for Romo, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett seems to have the right idea -- he recently told people to chill out when It comes to blaming Romo for the Cowboys’ relative failures. When he was quizzed on SportsCenter about Romo’s record of 1-6 in “win-or-go-home” games, Garrett had this to say:
“I think teams win ‘win or go home’ games. I think teams win playoff games. I think teams win championships. Certainly the quarterback has a big role in having a really good football team, a championship football team. Tony’s done a great job helping us get into some of those games, helping us get an opportunity to win the division, to go to the playoffs, and sometimes it hasn’t worked out for our football team.”
Has Romo failed the Cowboys at times? Certainly. He will make more than his share of boneheaded throws, doesn’t always toss the ball away when there’s no play to make and tries to scramble his way out of trouble at times, only to find himself in a bigger fire. But he’s also been betrayed by a porous offensive line and receivers who occasionally run routes I’ve never seen on any route tree. It must also be said that Garrett needs a bit of help in the game-management department, which may be why offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Callahan will be calling plays in 2013.
If you want to keep it on the surface and claim that Tony Romo doesn’t apply enough “winner sauce” to the game of football, that’s your prerogative. But for those interested in reality over common perception … the reality is that Romo is a better than average quarterback with streaks of greatness and equal streaks of frustration. And that makes him very much like most long-time starters in the NFL.