ARLINGTON, Texas – Just imagine the overreaction if the Dallas Cowboys didn’t pull off the comeback.
This had the makings of all the most popular Cowboys narratives colliding together, which might have caused enough negative energy to blow the retractable roof off of Jerry Jones’ beloved $1.2 billion football palace.
It would've been awful under any circumstances to fall a game under .500 by losing to a one-win Minnesota Vikings team at home. But to do it in a game in which Dez Bryant made an emotionally charged mental mistake and Tony Romo threw a crunch-time interception?
All that was missing from the toxic mess was Jerry storming around on the sideline with a few celebrities by his side.
Still, if the Cowboys don’t march 90 yards with less than three minutes remaining
TONY ROMO CHOKES AGAIN!!!
DEZ BRYANT IS AN IMMATURE IDIOT DIVA!!!
FIRE JASON GARRETT!!!
But the apocalypse was avoided. The Cowboys survived against the 1-7 Vikings, pulling off a comeback to emerge with a 27-23 victory on Sunday, preventing Dallas for dominating the NFL news cycle for another week.
“It would have been tough, there’s no question about it,” said tight end Jason Witten, who has endured many media firestorms during his 11 seasons suiting up for America’s Team. “I try not to think about those situations. It was good to get this win, but I think we all know it wouldn’t have been a good setting, for sure.”
As it is, we can all take a deep breath and think in sentences that include lowercase letters and end in periods. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but at least the world isn’t ending.
Romo remains the highest-rated fourth-quarter passer in NFL history. That’s easy to forget after moments such as his interception with the Cowboys trailing by three and less than five minutes remaining, but it’s a fact.
Never mind that proven clutch quarterbacks with Super Bowl rings such as Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco throw picks in similar situations -- late in one-score games -- more often than Romo. Or that Romo has led 19 fourth-quarter comebacks -- more than Roger Staubach, aka Captain Comeback -- after going 7-of-9 on the winning drive Sunday for 90 yards and a touchdown to Dwayne Harris with 35 seconds remaining.
“If you really look at his body of work and you look at it objectively,” Garrett said, “he’s done this kind of stuff a lot.”
Of course, until he has playoff success, Romo will be perceived by many to be a choke artist. It’s really that plain and simple.
That’s why Romo is right when he says the media -- or more specifically, the discussion and debates about teams and players -- doesn’t matter. He’d be wasting energy to worry about it. If his work pays off and his focus bears fruit, the narrative will be rewritten anyway.
It’s a lesson Bryant needs to learn. That’s easy to say but hard to do for a guy who turns 25 Monday and spent the past couple of weeks as the primary target for NFL-covering critics. He’s bothered by inaccurate and unfair assumptions that he’s a selfish, me-first diva receiver.
Bryant knew the wrath would only intensify if the Cowboys lost Sunday. He knew his foolish penalty for pulling his helmet off while arguing a call, a personal foul due to a rule he says he didn't know about, one that knocked the Cowboys out of field-goal range, would be a huge topic of discussion. He knew his drop on a deep crossing route early in the fourth quarter, a play he probably could have scored on, would be replayed endlessly all week.
If not for that last drive, on which he made the biggest play with a 34-yard catch and run, Bryant would be the subject of harsh public scorn again this week.
“Oh, no doubt,” Bryant said. “Not once I didn’t think about that. I promise I thought about that after the drop and after the penalty. But we came out, we stuck together, we stayed as a team. We pulled this 'W' out.”
They pulled out the win, which meant Jerry didn’t have to field any questions about Garrett’s job security after the game. Or during either of his two weekly radio shows.
The Cowboys can move on as a 5-4 team that has flaws but also holds sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
A few minutes away from a full-blown crisis, the Cowboys put the narratives on pause.