The #hotsportstake has been a part of the sportswriting landscape since Ring Lardner first jabbed a piece of paper into a typewriter, and despite the reams of statistical analysis and mounds of game tape we have on hand in the modern era, weird narratives still persist. One of the more popular farces in recent years is the idea that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is some sort of epic choker when the games matter most. Alleged "experts" will point to his win-loss record in November and December as anecdotal evidence that Romo will never get over that hump -- that he will never have the kind of "clutch winner gene" that defines the greatest of the game.
With the loss last night, Tony Romo now has a career record of 13-20 in December/January.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 10, 2013
Tony Romo now has a career record of 13-20 in December/January.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 10, 2013
No doubt, Skip Bayless will blame Romo for that loss, unless he can somehow find a way to blame Troy Aikman and Tom Landry instead.
Morning talk bloviators aside, there is a pesky ding that dogs Romo wherever he goes. Never mind that Dallas' defense is on pace to set the single-season record for yardage allowed, set last year by the New Orleans Saints. Never mind that the man who has clearly turned New Orleans' defense around this year, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, was fired by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after the 2012 season because Ryan's schemes were too complicated. Never mind that the drafts put together by Jones and son Stephen over the last few seasons have provided less-than-optimal starters at several positions. And never mind that the Cowboys' offensive coaching staff has been sub-par since Sean Payton left in 2006.
Nope, it's all Romo's fault that the Cowboys have performed poorly when it really counts. He's the quarterback, quarterbacks win or lose ballgames, and that's all there is to it.
The weirdness of win-loss records for quarterbacks aside (football is, after all, the ultimate interdependent sport), Romo has actually performed exceedingly well in November throughout his NFL career, and his December numbers aren't so bad, either. Overall, he has the most fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives since 2011, and while those who will not be moved from the narrative insist that Romo put his teams in those negative situations, the raw numbers tell a very different story.
Let's start with the total team dynamic. Since 2009, the Cowboys have amassed a 29-32 record, and they have a total point differential of minus-35 (1,496 points scored, 1,531 points allowed). They have this negative point differential despite Dallas' offenses finishing seventh, 15th, 15th, and third in points scored. Dallas' defenses have finished 31st, 16th, 24th and 26th in points allowed. Focusing the microscope on the 2013 season, the Cowboys are third in points scored and 22nd in yards gained.
If Romo were unable to get things done when things were on the line (i.e., in the red zone), wouldn't those numbers be reversed? From the opponents' 19-yard-line and in, Romo's stats this year are insanely good: 31-of-51 for 185 yards, 18 touchdowns and one interception. In the fourth quarter, when he's supposed to dry up and blow away, his 2013 stats are quite impressive: 77-of-110 for 862 yards. eight touchdowns and two interceptions.
Now, the historical numbers. In November throughout his career, Romo has thrown 64 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, with a yards-per-attempt total of 8.15 and a passer rating of 105.5. In December, when he's supposed to fall apart? He's thrown 44 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions, with a YPA of 7.35. Yes, his numbers dip in December. You know whose numbers also dip in December? Tom Brady's. Yes, the all-time cold-weather, postseason quarterback also experiences a slight decline in his numbers just as Santa is putting the finishing touches on his big annual ride. Difference is, he's had more than a couple of postseason appearances because his teams have been built and coached at a very high level for the most part.
As for Romo's January numbers, there isn't much to go on, because the Cowboys are generally out of the picture after the New Year. In three games, he's thrown four touchdown passes and two interceptions and has a 1-2 "record." Romo has heard this junk for years, and he's been patient about it for the most part. But for those who want to try to tie a true correlation between Romo's performances and the Cowboys' late-season swoons, the stats will beat the #hotsportstakes ... if you do your homework.