"Don't ever let the facts spoil a good story" - Mark Twain
Why Mr. Twain originally offered that quote is up for debate, but the 2011 application of it seems to apply to the 2011 Dallas Cowboys story. Here are learned, wise NFL pundits talking each week about the Dallas Cowboys. And they go on and on discussing the inability of the Cowboys to take a season by the scruff of the neck before each Cowboys' game. They look carefully at all of the information in front of them, cross reference it with all of their personal experience in the game which is often plentiful and extensive, and then flush it right down the toilet.
Because, when one is predisposed to an opinion, there is often no amount of evidence that will turn their opinion short of being smacked in the face. Then, and only then, will they concede that maybe they were barking up the wrong tree.
And they arrive at a familiar destination.
Yes, the Cowboys QB is the topic of conversation. Why he can't make the big plays at the big moment. Why he has a December record that is unacceptable. Why he is not in the top class and why his coach doesn't trust him. And then, they start the game, the pregame show guys all put their feet up on the desk and congratulate each-other on a perfect show, and they start to watch a player who they have barbecued play.
All Tony Romo does is go out and play top level football from the QB position. Some weeks it is enough to win, other weeks the Cowboys waste a fabulous performance from their QB because something else on the team broke down. But, despite his performance, the narratives are already written. The dye has been cast. Romo is their target. Facts be damned.
Such was the case on Saturday Night, as before the game and after the game, the NFL Network demonstrated to us that this team is all about its QB. They link postseason failures and blown 4th Quarter leads to Romo. For it was Romo who lost 34-3 to the Vikings in 2009. And it was Romo who lost every single game he ever played that mattered. Because obviously the many he has won don't matter.
Against Tampa Bay, the Cowboys received a 4 Touchdown performance from Romo in the 1st half. You can make a real case that none of his 3 TD passes were a result of the called play. Instead, the improvisational skills of a player who has never been more locked in was on full display. Unlike the games against the Redskins and Dolphins where he made sensational improv plays rolling to his left, this time, the QB who takes as much ridicule as any QB in the game, rolled to his right for TD passes to all 3 of his WRs. It was truly remarkable stuff.
The Cowboys converted 3rd Down after 3rd Down. They went for the knock out early for a Tampa Bay team that has very little in the categories of talent or resolve, and Dallas found it quite easily because of their gigantic edge at the most important position on the field.
But this isn't about 1 game against a bad team in December. This is about a season that is the best of his career. And whether the critics care to acknowledge it or not, his career has numbers that can certainly rival just about anyone he ever plays against.
This isn't to say that Romo is perfect. Obviously, there are real issues with a QB who has never advanced his team in the playoffs past the Round of 8. That will have to change for his reputation to ever truly emerge on the other side. And Donovan McNabb is fine example of a QB who won tons of games, plenty of playoff games, but never emerged as a champion and therefore will never be placed in the group of top QBs in his generation.
But, I seldom remember McNabb being the week-in, week-out target of discussion on every network roundtable about "what is wrong with that team". Do they discuss the issues on the defense? Seldom. Do they look at the under-whelming offensive line? Almost never. Instead, it is back to Romo.
What can he do to change this? If you say that the answer is to just go play well, you should consider the following:
In 2011, coming off an injury that knocked him out of the final 10 games in 2010, Romo is playing at his best level. His QB rating is 102.6, which is significantly higher than ever before. On the other hand, he has never had a rating below 90, so his performance speaks for itself. His career record is now 47-28, so he wins plenty, and for his career, he averages a 10-6 record.
Admittedly, a combination of rust and broken ribs helped Romo get off to a tough start in '11, and that was never more obvious in his meltdown performance in Week 4 against Detroit. 3 deadly interceptions set the football world into a feeding frenzy and it was well deserved. But, it would seem that a game played on October 2 is still the source for just about every talking head in the league. It obviously isn't his play since then.
In the 10 games since Oct 2, the Cowboys are 6-4, but the QB play has been nearly spotless. How good? Well, his 22 Touchdowns and 4 Interceptions trail Aaron Rodgers (28 TDs, 4 INTs) and Drew Brees (27 TDs, 7 INTs). That is it. Given that those are widely held as 2 of the top 3 QBs in the sport, I would say for Rodgers, Brees, and Brady (22 TDs, 6 INTs) to be canonized each week and for Romo to have his job questioned just shows the silliness of pregame shows and sports talk radio in general.
Yes, Rodgers, Brees, and Brady have Super Bowl Rings. Of course they do. But, any guy in a sports bar can tell you that fact. He can tick down a list of guys with rings and say they are good and everyone else is lousy. But, I would expect top analysts to bring a little more information to the table than a guy in a jersey sitting in the booth over.
With the Cowboys 4 losses since Detroit, 3 times, Romo had the team in a position to win the game when he left the field (or in the New York game, at least get to OT). Against New England, the defense didn't have another stand in them. Against the Cardinals, the Field Goal incident happened. And against the Giants, Austin lost the ball in the lights and then Jason Pierre Paul blocked a FG.
But, if you go snap by snap and game by game, the Cowboys get a top grade at the QB position nearly ever week. His 107.1 rating since week 4 demonstrates that they are getting elite QB play despite inconsistent running and a very uneven performances from the offensive line.
And yet, the December record gets attached to Romo. His team has a poor record in December, and therefore it is obviously his fault, right? Well, in his last 7 December games, he has 15 TDs and 1 INT. Surely other QBs could do better, right?
It must be great to play for the Cowboys if you aren't Tony Romo or the coach (whoever that is at a given time). If the defense can't get a stop, the talking heads will jump Romo. If the line can't block, it is clearly Romo's fault. If a player drops a pass or misses a kick, the guys back at the studio in New York or Los Angeles will dust off their Romo rants. It speaks to his mental makeup that this reality never crushes his spirit.
We live in a city where a certain basketball star lived under the same scrutiny until June 2011. He was blamed for things that were his fault and things that weren't his fault. It was too easy just to say the same things about him rather than actually investigate why his team couldn't win it all.
And that is why on October 3, the day after the Detroit meltdown, Dirk Nowitzki felt for Romo and sent this missive out on Twitter: "Dear tony romo. Don't worry abt all the critics. I heard that same garbage for a long time. Keep working hard and keep improving."
Keep working hard and keep improving. Well, it appears that Romo took that advice to heart. He has played so well since that day. But, the Cowboys have weaknesses on this team that are clearly not overcome every week with elite QB play. Sometimes, he can pull them out of the fire (at Washington, Miami) and some weeks he cannot (at Arizona, New York).
After Saturday night's monster performance, Romo sat there as the NFL Network talked to him in that condescending way about accountability and whether winning matters. He took it as he always does with his guarded responses and his smiles. He then played along as Deion Sanders promised to wear Romo's jersey despite being a Romo critic if the Cowboys get to the NFC title game. Surely, Romo will find inspiration to know that Deion would actually give him credit if he made it in January.
Romo knows as anyone who follows this team knows as well; if the Cowboys don't win it all with Romo at QB, it will be his fault.
Even when it isn't.