October 23, 2006 . Nearly 4 years ago to the day, the Dallas Cowboys played a Monday Night Game at Texas Stadium against the New York Giants. In that game, Sam Madison picked off a Drew Bledsoe pass right before halftime that ended Bledsoe's run as the Cowboy starting QB because Bill Parcells yanked him during the intermission.
The Giants walked off the field that night having terrorized 2 Cowboys QBs in what will best be remembered as the night the Tony Romo era started. Giants 36, Cowboys 22.
Those same Giants rolled into Texas for a pivotal game that would either revive the Cowboys season or doom it last night. I think we know which category that unmitigated disaster must be placed in after we consider the events and details of this large New York victory.
The Giants look the part of the best team in the NFC East, and quite possibly the entire conference.
And the Cowboys look like a team that should be crossed off the list of potential NFC playoff teams.
4 years and 2 days later, the Tony Romo era has been put on hold indefinitely.
Romo was smashed to the turf in the 2nd Quarter by blitzing linebacker Michael Boley, and in an instant, the Cowboys season went from disappointing to completely hopeless.
And as we review the conservative approach to many games this year by Jason Garrett and the coaching staff regarding the ability of this team to pass protect, now we all can see the worst case scenario.
If you cannot pass protect, you subject your QB to a physical beating. We saw in the Minnesota game that the Cowboys were not willing to risk that situation on a regular basis. Guys like me see that and want to see a little more aggression in the game plan because the season is at stake. But, if one guy blows his assignment - and it appears Chris Gronkowski did - then your season ends before it should with the break in Romo's collarbone.
And now, like in 2008, we get to see the answers to a few questions about the Cowboys without Tony Romo.
1) - Did the personnel department properly prepare for this moment? Every front office knows this moment is one hit away from happening, and the Cowboys were not ready last time this happened. In 2008, Brad Johnson was clearly not capable of playing QB in the NFL any longer. We saw in training camp what appeared to be a backup QB that better never have to play, because Johnson sure didn't look like he could make the throws on the practice field. Johnson no longer had the arm to make the throw, and everyone knew it. When Romo was hurt at the end of the Arizona game, we saw Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger put together 3 of the most powerless offensive performances in recent history. Somehow, they were able to win a home game against Tampa Bay in that 3 game stretch, but the value of Tony Romo was clearly seen when you looked at what replaced him. Now, is Jon Kitna ready and any better? There was similar murmuring in training camp about whether this 38-year old still could be counted upon. It certainly appears he has the fire in his belly that will challenge the huddle, but we will know soon enough what he can do with his arm. Stephen McGee is an investment pick from the 2009 draft that they thought was worth a 4th rounder (the 101st pick). Is he anywhere near ready to play? Assuming how few reps a 3rd QB gets and how few throws he made in college, we should assume Kitna will get every chance to succeed or fail before we see McGee.
2) - How good is Tony Romo? I would say chances are pretty good that this will be noticed by all Cowboys fans right away. Here is the thing: He is not Troy Aikman and he is not Roger Staubach. Chances are pretty good that he will never be worthy of being compared to them. But, he has played 5 seasons with a 90+ QB Rating in his 5 seasons in the NFL. Do you know how many QBs can say that in this league from 2006-2010? 2. Peyton Manning and Romo. But, when this team plays poorly, it is the job of any fan-base to suggest that the wrong guys are in key positions on this team, and I have received plenty of feedback in the last few weeks from people who are convinced that Romo is not the proper man for the job. Like I said, he is not in my Top 5 QBs in this league right now, but he is sure in the Top 10. And sometimes it takes his absence to show observers how good a guy is. I believe chances are pretty good that it will be obvious to most quite quickly that he certainly beats the alternatives.
3) - What can the Offensive Line do without Romo? I think we saw rather quickly that pass protection and run blocking gets much more difficult for the Cowboys without Romo. First, we see that his feet allow him to cover up some short comings in the protection game. Kitna is far more stationary, and this means he will likely take some hits far more frequently because while Romo is not a scrambler, he certainly does possess the ability to take a side step to buy himself some more time. As for the running game, the Giants demonstrated that if they don't believe the QB is a major threat down the field, that they can load up the box with any and all LB and Safety personnel to insure that Felix Jones doesn't have a prayer of finding a seam. And last night, for most of the evening - the running game never had a chance. I would not expect that situation to change in the near future.
The consequences are severe. The Cowboys were already up a creek without an oar before this happened, but I kept the feeling alive that they had the talent to win if they would just stop beating themselves.
But, things changed with one missed blitzer last night. This team should not likely be compared to the Pittsburgh Steelers who played 4 games and won 3 of them without their starting QB to begin the season. The Steelers spent their entire training camp preparing for that scenario and also have a running game and a defense that can be counted upon to carry the mail until Ben Roethlisberger could return.
Not only that, the Steelers looked like they enjoyed the challenge of trying to win without their QB. The Cowboys looked like some of them wondered how long it was until they can have another vacation and be put out of their misery after Romo was hurt last night. Wade Phillips said after the game how much he liked the effort and how everyone fought hard. My eyes did not agree with his assessment.
After seeing Eli Manning and the Giants demoralize the Cowboys defense and after seeing 6 weeks of the Cowboys attempting to run the ball with almost no success, I suspect the results here will be far more difficult to achieve.
But, Jacksonville will be here Sunday, ready or not. And they represent one of the easier challenges in the near future. But without Romo, I think that will take a top-notch performance to put the 2nd win of the season on the board.