Admit it — you saw your Dallas Cowboys season flash in front of your eyes as Tony Romo laid on the AT&T Stadium turf in the third quarter of Monday night’s game against the Washington Redskins. Which shows, for all the greatness of the Cowboys’ running the football behind DeMarco Murray and that enormous offensive line this season, this is still Romo’s team.
Romo’s injury came as he tried to absorb a sack by Washington’s Keenan Robinson, who came on one of those many unblocked blitzes that seemed to mystify the Cowboys all night. Romo turned his back to Robinson and took a knee to the back. In addition, his back twisted awkwardly as he went to the ground.
The Redskins celebrated the sack. Romo spent the next five minutes on the ground, looking up at that eggshell white roof of the stadium as the 85,000 in attendance fell silent.
Romo now has a team around him in which he doesn’t have to win it by himself. So why did the Cowboys put that much on him?
Romo walked to the locker room gingerly to get a more extensive checkup. It seemed, in the moment, his night was done. Perhaps his season. For a quarterback coming off two back surgeries in the span of one year, the second for a herniated disc, this was the nightmare scenario.
Sure, Brandon Weeden played well in Romo’s place. Weeden led two scoring drives, one for a field goal and one for a touchdown. Murray kept on chugging along and ended up with a whopping 221 yards in total offense. But what they lost was Romo’s creativity and improvisational ability, the added value he brings that most quarterbacks just can’t.
Look at the second quarter of this game. The Cowboys faced third-and-6 at the Washington 44. The Redskins were starting to own the Cowboys on third down with their creative blitz packages. Romo was on the run again, shuffling around the pocket trying to find room, and he had no one to throw to except Murray. But with no room to wind up, he just flicked it out there to Murray, and he turned it into a 24-yard gain. That led to a Dez Bryant touchdown reception.
Weeden can’t do that. He’s a functional backup with a strong arm that can run the offense. But he doesn’t have Romo’s spark.
Incredibly, at least based on what we saw in the third quarter, Romo returned late in the game to try and help the Cowboys win it. Afterward head coach Jason Garrett said Romo had a back contusion and that X-rays on his back were negative. That’s good news for next week’s game against Arizona. But it wasn’t much help in the final two minutes and overtime.
Romo was not sharp. He fumbled the ball on an all-out blitz late in the game, which was miraculously recovered by Murray. In overtime, after Murray gave them a second-and-2 with an eight-yard run, the Cowboys put the game in Romo’s hands for three straight plays in an attempt to get a first down.
It was a miscalculation by play-caller Scott Linehan that bordered on ignorant, based on how the Redskins had teed off on Romo in passing situations all night. Fourth down was especially galling, as the Cowboys ran a four-wide receiver look and an empty backfield as the Redskins sent a full-house blitz. It’s a miracle Romo didn’t get plastered.
But his pass fell incomplete, and the Redskins won in overtime.
For years we’ve said that Romo can’t win it by himself. He now has a team around him in which he doesn’t have to win it by himself. So why, nursing a back contusion and having missed a full quarter of football, did the Cowboys put that much on him?
That’s a question for the rest of this week as the Cowboys prepare for the Cardinals. For now, Cowboys fans hope the next time Romo forces them to hold their breath it’s because he’s just executed another of his amazing improv moments.
The alternative, as evidenced Monday night, would be far more calamitous.