In the aftermath of last night’s hilarity in Dallas, Tony Romo will face the most vitriol, and possibly also violently flung excrement. That’s because hating Romo is a hobby, and a deeply-embedded national past time and personal interest of narrative fans everywhere. It’s partly a product of a fabricated belief that he’s horrible in clutch time, and has the mental stability under pressure of a teen trying to seal his first kiss. There are nerves, uncontrollably shaking hands, and eventually a lip caught in a zipper.
And sure, Romo was bad, and the intention here isn’t to deflect blame from that fact. His interception or fumble or whatever the hell it was that resulted in Lance Briggs going the other way for a 74-yard touchdown was crushing, as at the time the Cowboys were driving deep into Chicago territory, and were poised to either tie the game, or at the very least pull to within four points midway through the third quarter. The momentum then shifted drastically along with the scoreboard, as instead of being down by only one score, the Bears now held a 24-10 advantage. Game, blouses.
The last of Romo’s five interceptions showcased his shattered confidence. It was a blown read on a basic throw that resulted in an even more basic pick by Major Wright. That pick was also completely irrelevant during garbage time, with the score 34-10.
Yet the focus remains mostly on Romo and his five interceptions, a total that tied a career single-game high. We can partly thank the inane continued existence of quarterback win-loss records for that, a useless and archaic metric that results in QBs getting far too much credit for wins, and far too much blame for losses. And we’ll focus on that interception number — that woeful, nearly career-high number — despite the utter lack of support Romo received from his receivers, and one in particular.
It’s remarkable how easy the reflex is to heap blame on Romo when two of the picks that contributed to that damning INT number were the direct result of poor execution by the intended receiver, and a glaring mental mistake. Kevin Ogletree has taken full responsibility for one of them, saying that he simply didn’t reach out for the ball that bounced off his chest and into Wright’s hands early in the third quarter. At the time Dallas was on Chicago’s 18-yard line and down by 10 points, looking to cut the lead to a field goal.
But if Dez Bryant could run a proper route, that deficit would have already been minimal. In the second quarter Bryant continued down field when Romo expected a hitch, and the result was a ball placed firmly in the gut of Charles Tillman, and an easy pick six. It was the first of Bryant’s mental fumbles, and by the end of the night he further cemented his status as a receiver who will forever frustrate fantasy owners with his ability to show so much elite potential due to the gifts bestowed upon him by a higher power, and then later let his mental deficiencies cancel out those physical blessings.
Bryant dropped three passes, one of which would have likely resulted in a touchdown, and another hit him directly in the facemask. Drops happen, and basic logical says that a player who’s targeted often (Bryant was targeted 13 times last night) will see the likelihood of a few balls thumping off of his hands or chest (or, um, face) increase significantly. Just ask Roddy White how that basic equation works after he led the league in targets last year (181) and drops (15).
But precedent outweighs volume, and what’s especially disappointing and troubling about the Dez Bryant we saw last night is that he was a complete stranger compared to the reliable receiver we watched a year ago. He was targeted 103 times throughout the 2011 season, and 64 of those throws were deemed to be routine catches (or “catachable” balls) by Pro Football Focus. He dropped only one of them, making him the second most efficient receiver in the league. In one game last night, he dropped three.
Yet despite his mental miscues, Bryant still caught eight passes for 105 yards. The latter number is a career high, but instead of celebrating it, we’re now left to lament the yards, fantasy points, and possible touchdowns that he left on the field, all of which were easily within his abilities.
He’s a maddening player to own, because he could and should be so much more.