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Sunday, December 15, 2013
Late picks only part of Romo's whole story

By Todd Archer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- At some point you would think there is not enough room for losses like Sunday's against the Green Bay Packers, that the mantel might finally run out of space.

Somehow the Dallas Cowboys and Tony Romo keep expanding it.

Put Sunday's loss right next to the loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the 2006 playoffs. Nestle it up to the loss in the 2007 playoffs to the New York Giants and the crushing 44-6 season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008. Don't forget the 2010 loss to the Detroit Lions when they coughed up a 24-point lead.

Tony Romo
Tony Romo's two fourth-quarter interceptions helped the Packers mount a 23-point comeback.
Romo opened 2011 with a fourth-quarter interception that led to the New York Jets' winning field goal and then in December saw an 11-point lead disappear against the Giants after Miles Austin lost a sure touchdown in the stadium lights.

And don't forget the three-interception finale against the Washington Redskins that led to the Cowboys' second straight loss in a de facto NFC East title game.

Oh, and there's this year's loss to the Denver Broncos when a fourth-quarter interception led to the game-winning field goal.

This one might not be the cruelest -- it's hard to top the Seattle loss because of the playoff significance and what it meant to the franchise -- but it is no less disheartening.

Romo was intercepted on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter to set up the Packers' 37-36 victory as the Cowboys blew a 23-point halftime lead and a 12-point advantage with 7:55 to go.

The decision to thread a pass to Miles Austin after Romo escaped an unblocked Clay Matthews and the miscommunication with wide receiver Cole Beasley will be scrutinized for the next week and even longer if the Cowboys do not make the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

The decision on the Austin throw that was intercepted by Sam Shields was a poor one. The Cowboys had a running play called, but with the Packers stacked where the Cowboys would run it, Romo threw a "smoke" route to Austin. He had to hitch because Matthews was in his way and he was unable to lead Austin, giving Shields the chance to come down with the interception.

"It was my fault for obviously putting the ball in a position where the defense could make a play," Romo said.

The Packers took the lead on the ensuing drive with 1:31 to play on Eddie Lacy's 1-yard touchdown run.

The Packers took the game seven seconds later when Beasley cut off his route and Romo threw wide, where Tramon Williams came up with the turnover after the pass was initially ruled incomplete. By the time Walt Coleman announced the reversal, Cowboys fans were headed to the exits and Dez Bryant was just about to the locker room.

"I think [Beasley] and Tony were just not on the same page on how to read the defense," coach Jason Garrett said.

Those throws will be the most scrutinized, but Romo missed a few chances to put the game out of reach earlier in the game. Twice he underthrew Bryant on deep balls that allowed Green Bay defenders to break up the passes. One pass to Bryant in the end zone in the first half was a hair too far in front. Once he underthrew Jason Witten when the tight end got behind the defense.

Garrett answered in coachspeak about Romo's deep misses, saying they needed to look at the tape but mostly lauded the quarterback's game -- 29-of-48, 358 yards, two touchdowns, two picks -- while almost ignoring just how much better those numbers could have been.

The Cowboys have not thrown deep much this year. Romo entered Sunday averaging a career-low 7.1 yards per attempt. He entered the season averaging 7.9 yards per attempt and made his name since taking over in 2006 with big plays to Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn, Austin and Bryant.

This season it has been different and it never was more evident than on the Cowboys' second-to-last drive that ended up in Shields' interception.

"We know what they're going to do," Garrett said. "They're going to put nine guys on the line of scrimmage. They're going to try and get you in second-and-12 and third-and-14 and get the ball back that way."

On first down from the Dallas 20, Shields was in single coverage on Bryant. Romo saw it. Bryant saw it. The chance for a big play was there, but Romo's pass was short and Shields was able to make a play. If the ball is two yards further, Bryant scores a touchdown and the aggressiveness of Garrett, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan and Romo is lauded.

Instead they are criticized for not running the ball more and the loss gets added to a mantel that just never seems to get too crowded.

"I think the worst thing you can do sometimes with Dez is overthrow him," Romo said. "Obviously you would like to hit him perfectly in stride and go. Sometimes he's such a great athlete that he comes down with most of them. I look back and I wish I had one or two where I gave it a little bit more. Usually I make sure if I err it's just slightly less and he always goes up and gets it. Obviously when I look back I'll push those down the field if I have the opportunity."

Romo will have two more opportunities with games left against the Redskins and Eagles.

"Hopefully we can get better," Romo said before turning down a hallway to an elevator. "We need to get better."