took his team back to the top of the NFC East. (Bill Kostroun/AP)
If you were to guess, based on pure overall narrative, which NFL quarterback has the most fourth-quarter comebacks or game-winning drives since the start of the 2011 season, you would most certainly not pick Tony Romo unless you have a unique gift for foreshadowing, or a particularly interesting sense of humor. But for all the talk about Romo's meltdowns and failures at various points throughout his career, he's the one with that claim to fame. And in Dallas' 24-21 win over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon, Romo engineered his 11th drive since 2011 in which his trailing or tied team pulled out a win in the fourth quarter or overtime. The final blow was dealt by kicker Dan Bailey with a 35-yard field goal as time elapsed, but Romo set it up with a 14-play, 64-yard drive, and he completed nine of his 15 passes for 82 yards in the final 15 minutes.
Earlier, it looked as if the Cowboys would play to the narrative and goof this one up. Dallas went ahead 21-6 in the third quarter when Romo hit tight end Jason Witten with a two-yard touchdown pass -- one of two Witten caught on the night -- before the Giants came back with two touchdowns and a two-point conversion to tie the game up. And as it was Tom Coughlin's team on the hot streak with four wins a row, it would have surprised nobody if Romo and the Cowboys collapsed. But he reversed the momentum and put his team in a position to win. No, it wasn't the playoff triumph everyone expects before they'll call him a "winner" or some such nonsense, but it was the best he could possibly do in the here and now.
"First of all, I thought it was a great drive," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said after the game. "That's when you separate yourself as a quarterback, as an offensive football team, and as a team in general -- when you go down, and you're able to make those drives in critical moments. The conditions were not easy today -- it was cold and windy -- and people had a hard time holding on to the football. We had a number of those types of plays throughout the game. But at the critical moments in this game, we call it 'nut-cutting time,' our quarterback stepped up and did one hell of a job. And the guys around him did a heck of a job, and we made the plays we needed to make when we needed to make them."
Romo stuck with his main targets, hitting Dez Bryant for nine receptions on 16 targets for 102 yards, and targeting Witten seven times. Despite some offensive issues early on, he finished the game 23-of-38 for 205 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
And unlike in other moments throughout this season, Romo's running game and defense seemed up to the challenge. DeMarco Murray ripped off a few impact plays, and a pass defense on pace to set an NFL record for yardage allowed gave up just 174 passing yards to Eli Manning.
Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul notably said during the week that this game was "going to be a dogfight. There's going to be a lot of blood spilled out there." Romo was sacked four times, but Pierre-Paul didn't log one of them. Cowboys defensive lineman Jason Hatcher, who added two sacks on the night to move his season total to nine, put Pierre-Paul in his place when a reporter asked him why his uniform was bloody.
"I just finished eating a Giant. That’s some leftover blood. They said blood was going to be shed, right? ... When you feel disrespected as a team … Coming into somebody’s house and they don’t even respect you as a team? Yeah. I’m proud of my team. We’ve got a long ways to go. We just got to keep it up. We took this victory tonight. We took it."
After the game, Romo's mind was on that last drive, and the win that put him back on top of the NFC East at 6-5.
"You just try and stay on the task at hand," he said. "Just think about each play, and what they're wanting to do. You go back to your film study through the week, and you think about how they want to attack you. Stick to your guns until you see something a little different in certain plays, and go do it."
For the Giants, there's just a 4-7 record, and the thoughts of what might have been had they avoided that 0-6 start.
"It’s frustrating," safety Antrel Rolle said. "It’s frustrating to know that we were kind of holding them the way we wanted to hold them. We played some good defense throughout the course of the game. I don’t think anything was pretty at all times on either side of the ball. Both teams fought, you have to take your hat off to both teams. They fought extremely hard and Dallas, you know, they came out on top."
The Cowboys still have their share of issues. But the hope in Dallas is that this win can lead to greater things.