Dec 082013

tony-romo-sports-illustrated-cover-dallas-cowboysThe Cowboys are 7-5. Two whole games over .500. For a team that has not finished above .500 in four seasons, that is kind of a big deal. With four games to go, the Cowboys can either make a move towards winning that elusive NFC East title and making the playoffs, or they can slide back into the middle of the pack, where they have been pretty much mired in this 21st century.

Romo is the key to the Cowboys success

To win the division and avoid a first-round exit in the playoffs, several things will have to happen:

  • The defensive line will have to get after opposing quarterbacks.
  • Sean Lee and company will have to slow down opponents’ ground attacks.
  • DeMarco Murray will have to stay healthy and run like he means it.
  • The offensive line will have to continue the good job it has done to date, opening holes for runners and keeping Romo in one piece.
  • Dez Bryant will have to make plays and avoid disastrous mistakes while fighting for more yards.
  • Witten and company will have to present a viable threat and alternative when Dez is double and triple covered.
  • The one thing Kiffin’s defense has excelled at in 2013–forcing turnovers–will need to continue.

But the Cowboys could do all of those things well and still lose without a stellar performance by Tony Romo. For all the flack the Cowboys’ QB has taken from local fans, local and national media, and critics in general, he remains the best player on the team and the key to everything. Fortunately for the Cowboys, 2013 has been one of Romo’s best years. Maybe his best ever. He has thrown 24 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He has avoided the untimely pick at critical junctures in games, a thing that has plagued him in his career. He has managed to continue making the plays good quarterbacks make and a few almost no other quarterback can make, while protecting the ball.

This defense won’t win any championships

Twice in three weeks, the 2013 Cowboys’ defense set the team record for yards allowed. Twice! In three weeks! They are currently ranked 22nd overall, which is actually an improvement over prior rankings. They are often gouged for big yardage on the ground and burned by aerial assaults. Sometimes, they have bent but not broken. Other times, they have shattered like a piece of fine china smashing into concrete.

The defense does make plays, however. Despite having given up 5059 yards to date, the most in the NFL, they excel at taking the ball away. They have forced and recovered 12 fumbles and snagged 13 interceptions.

The mixed bag provided by the defense means the Cowboys third-ranked offense will have to carry the team to victory more times than not. When the defense gives up a late touchdown, the offense will have to respond.

That means Tony Romo will have to respond. He will have to be better than they are bad.

Or else.

Or else, the Cowboys will look up four games from now and find themselves 8-8, disappointed and disappointing once again.

The final run begins Monday night in Chicago. The tone for the final month of games will be set in the windy city. Win that game and the team goes to three games over .500 and would have to lose all three remaining games to slide back to the mark that has marked them for too long.

Besides, Philadelphia, with their wunderkind quarterback and neophyte coach are right there at 7-5, too, ready to pounce on the division title should the Cowboys leave that door open.

Romo can close that door, beginning Monday night in Chicago.