I tried, guys. I tried to resist the delectable nectar of the low-hanging fruit, and make Washington’s win much more about Alfred Morris’ brilliance or Robert Griffin III’s resilience than Tony Romo’s failure. The former two are more than deserving of the accolades, and while Romo was again awful throughout an elimination game and especially at a crucial juncture, he often receives far too much blame.
But this time, he needs to wear it.
There were easily available excuses for Romo during this game tonight, and the Cowboys’ eventual 28-18 loss to Washington that handed the Redskins the NFC East crown. It also marked Dallas’ sixth loss in an elimination game during the Romo era, and the third straight year in which they let a playoff berth slip away during the final game of the season.
Not only was Romo’s top receiver Dez Bryant playing minus one finger, he also injured his back and left the game during the third quarter, and we later learned that he was in severe pain. Miles Austin injured himself too and was playing hobbled, mostly because he’s Miles Austin and that’s what he does. That left Romo throwing to Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, and Cole Beasley whenever he targeted a wide receiver. Not exactly the ideal trio during an elimination game.
Then there was the defense, a side of the ball Romo has no control over whatsoever. Simply put, they were gashed. Sean Lee wasn’t walking through that door, and it showed, as the Cowboys lacked the lateral speed and gap control to contain the read-option rushing offense led by RG3 and Morris. During a game when he established a new ‘Skins single-season record for rushing yards, Morris had 200 yards on 33 carries while scoring three times, with his night including runs of 22 and 32 yards.
That’s an average of six yards per carry for Morris. Toss in Griffin’s 63 yards and a touchdown as he continually made a fool out of an also hobbled DeMarcus Ware, and a Cowboys defense that was giving up 115.3 rushing yards per game prior to today was sliced for 274 yards (Evan Royster and Santana Moss combined for the other 11 yards).
And that’s all we would have needed to release Romo completely of his blame shackles, and say that regardless of what he did or didn’t do, the bulk of the burden should go elsewhere on this night. But lo, the fluttering pass will not be forgotten.
You’ll remember it well. Despite all the aforementioned stumbles and reasons why the Cowboys shouldn’t have been in this game, they had a chance after an Ogletree touchdown, and they were down by only a field goal on their own 29 yard-line with just over three minutes remaining. Romo rolled out to flick a swing pass in the flat to DeMarco Murray. But it floated gently, and a routine, mundane played ended in an interception, with linebacker Rob Johnson undercutting the throw.
Combine that with his two other picks in this game, and Romo threw three interceptions. They brought his total this year to 19, which ties a career single-season high. Whether or not you think that number deserves more attention than his career high in passing yards this year (4,903) depends on where your priorities lie while observing a league where passing is king, and accumulating yards in large volumes is growing to be commonplace.
Romo and his latest, most perplexing blunder gave us what we wanted during Wild Card weekend: a matchup of two of the game’s elite rookies at the quarterback position when the Redskins host Seattle. That, along with round two of Vikings-Packers, Jim Irsay packing up the Mayflower and heading to Baltimore, and a re-match of last year’s AFC wild card game between the Bengals and Texans. The stroylines are in abundance during the first round, and we’ll be exploring and analyzing the matchups as the week progresses.
But in Cowboyland, there’s only more Romo frustration. Don’t worry, it’ll pass, maybe. He’s entering the final year of his contract after all.