Rabid Reaction: Romo on double-secret probation

September, 13, 2011
9/13/11
12:53
AM ET

Rabid Reaction: Our series of knee-jerk-styled, emotional overreactions from Ben Rogers of 103.3 FM ESPN's Ben and Skin Show. He's known to get way too excited over even the slightest of developments with the teams he grew up with in the DFW. Proceed with caution ...

Walk into any Metroplex dive this week and mention Tony Romo’s name with a complimentary tone and you’re likely to reel in a dirty look or two.

A quick fly-by of the local drinkeries will confirm that the "Cowboys will never win a Super Bowl with Romo at QB" thread has officially replaced the suddenly less useful "Mavs will never win with Dirk as their best player" angle when it comes to long-winded regional barstool sports lectures.

The Romo stock is officially plummeting. It's kind of surprising, too, considering that he was pretty darn good for the first 45 minutes Sunday night. But what took place after that is what has people worried. That one awful, terrible, unbelievably dreadful quarter has tweaked the panic radar of many who have struggled for years to wrap their arms around Romo's real value. Is he a fantasy quarterback prone to throwing up big stats or a Super Bowl quarterback capable of leading a team to the dreamparty? His unforgivable fourth-quarter turnover meltdown Sunday against the Jets has even his most loyal supporters letting calls go straight to voicemail.

Cowboys fans are a battered and bruised bunch following a heartbreaking loss in Week 1. If you need a favor from one of 'em, you’re probably better off just waiting to file your request for another week or so.

Metroplex officials confirmed reports of foul mood outbreaks throughout the area on Monday. Courtesy waving on local highways, friendly smoke-break smalltalking, and semi-enthusiastic whistle-walking in the workplace are all suddenly hitting their lowest levels in months as an enormous loss-hangover has ravaged social pleasantries throughout North Texas. It was a game they were never supposed to be in, yet there they were with a mind-boggling chance to win it in the fourth quarter.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Henny Ray AbramsWhat went for with Tony Romo in the fourth quarter? Everything.
Had they been blown out, it would’ve been a much easier pill to swallow. In fact, that puppy would’ve gone down like a shot of tap water at a Rangers game. After all, the AFC’s pride-and-joy Jets were playing at home in front of an emotionally charged house on the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 tragedies and – more importantly – at least at this early stage of the season, the Jets are clearly a better football team than the reshuffling Cowboys.

Had Dallas lost its season opener by a wide margin, like 31-10, most Cowboys fans would’ve simply returned to work unfazed Monday, ready to "open up a can" on lowly San Fran this coming weekend. A training camp of convincing expectation reduction will do that to a fan base.

But in the heat of the moment late Sunday night, the Cowboys unexpectedly found themselves sitting in the overachiever chair, ready to deliver a potential knockout punch (of either the three- or seven-point variety) to a stunned Jets team. But following three flawless quarters of expert quarterbacking, Tony Romo inexplicably decided to transform into Tony Turnover at precisely the wrong time. Hello fumble. Hello interception. Hello heartbreak.

And now, subsequently, hello Romo-doubtapalooza.

To snatch a loss from the jaws of victory is bad enough on its own (especially when you have to Heimlich that sucker out of there like the Cowboys did Sunday night). But to lose because your prized veteran quarterback blows the game with a fireworks-style grand finale of crunch-time bone-headedness is something else entirely.

The “old” Tony Romo was a careless gunslinger who scrambled around the pocket like he was on ice skates, fired from the hip like Wild Bill Hickok, and fed defenses turnovers like they were hungry fish in his own private Koi pond. But in 2009, Romo significantly took his game up a notch and finally started taking care of the ball. He grew up. His wild ways in the rear-view mirror, he was ready to graduate to the elite level.

Then his line forgot how to block the Vikings in the second round of the playoffs, and 2009 ended before he was able to go on a deep, name-making playoff run. That unsatisfying but promising campaign was then followed up by an all-around disastrous 2010. The head coach was fired after a miserable start, a season was utterly lost, and an injured Romo got to model sweatsuits and arm slings on the sideline for the second half of the season.

Fast-forward to this training camp, and expectations for Romo and all of his explosive offensive weapons have been sky high. He's finally healthy, Dez is ready to eat defenses for breakfast, and all potential cancer bombs and entitlement kings have been removed from the offensive side of the ball. This has the makings of a huge year for Romo – a year where he finally puts it all together. That’s why his terrible decision-making Sunday night was so very shocking.

He’s not a rookie, but he made two serious rookie mistakes in the fourth quarter Sunday. He knows better than to risk fumbling the ball inside the opponent’s 5-yard line on third down when a simple hook slide would ultimately result in a field goal and a two-score lead. He knows better than to throw a floater to a receiver on crutches limping through double coverage – which by the way included the best cornerback in football. He knows better.

So why did he do those things? He’s smarter than that, isn’t he?

Concern over a quarterback’s football IQ is no small thing, especially when the play-caller in question is closer to a comb-over than a sleepover. It forces you to wonder if it’s an isolated incident or a catastrophic flaw. Repeat "are-you-freakin-kidding-me" offenses of this kind almost always lead to pitchforks, torches and quarterback controversies.

As of now, such talk is ludicrous. Romo could very well have just needed one regular season tune-up game to shake off the rust. As of now, the New York debacle is hereby officially being labeled as an isolated event.

But make no mistake about, he’s been written up. That loss, and all of the seedy details about how it went down, is going into his permanent file. In fact, my sources tell me that he’s now officially on double-secret probation in the hearts and minds of most Cowboys fans. Oh, they still love him and they’ll stand by him long enough to let their hero get back up on his white horse one more time, but he did considerable damage with that brain freeze fiasco. One more destructive wrecking ball performance like that, and Cowboys fans might repossess the horse.

For now, there is still a sunset to potentially ride off into. A win against the 49ers would go a long way to making a lot of grumpy people forget about the one that he threw away ... and fumbled away ... and basically just gift-wrapped and gave away in general.

The Ben and Skin Show airs weekdays from 9 a.m.-noon on 103.3 FM, ESPN in Dallas-Fort Worth. Follow Ben on Twitter: @BenRogers

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