Commentary

Cowboys shouldn't rush Tony Romo

Jon Kitna is plenty capable of filling in if starter is at risk of further injury

Updated: September 22, 2011, 11:12 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Jon Kitna is the NFL's best backup quarterback. Yes, that includes Texas-ex Vince Young.

Kitna proved it last season.

And again on Sunday.

Kitna kept the Dallas Cowboys close enough during the third quarter until Tony Romo rode in on his white steed to save the day and lead the Cowboys to a thrilling 27-24 overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers despite having a cracked rib and a punctured lung.

[+] EnlargeKitna
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesThe Cowboys should feel comfortable starting Jon Kitna if Tony Romo is at further risk of injury.

Memo to Jason Garrett: Don't be afraid to use the old man Monday night against the Washington Redskins.

He won't let you down.

So if there's the tiniest chance that Romo can further injure himself -- whether it's the rib or the lung -- playing against the Redskins, then Garrett must sit Romo this week and start Kitna.

The bye week is only two weeks away and more than three months remain in the season. Right now, there's no need to risk Romo's health.

If Romo gets mad, too bad.

This isn't a matter of whether he's tough enough. He is. This is about what's best for the team.

We know Romo will relentlessly lobby Garrett to play. Garrett must ignore Romo's rhetoric and study his body language.

Is Romo following through on his throws or throwing off his back foot to avoid contact like he did numerous times against the 49ers? Can he speak loud enough for four quarters, so nothing in the play-call gets lost in translation and he can audible? Romo admitted it was hard for him to yell the signals because it was like taking a deep breath, which was painful.

Kitna at 100 percent is better than Romo at 60 percent. Or even 70 percent.

The 39-year-old Kitna did a nice job against San Francisco considering he missed a chunk of time in training camp with a variety of ailments. He threw only 11 passes in the preseason -- Stephen McGee threw 81, Romo 37 and Tom Brandstater 12 -- which is not enough for a man his age to find a rhythm.

If he's on the team next season, then Garrett needs to make a mental note that getting Kitna quality work in training camp is not optional.

That said, Kitna came off the bench and completed 6-of-10 passes for 87 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. The Cowboys trailed 14-7 when Kitna entered the game and 21-14 when he left.

Some of you will focus on the interceptions.

Don't.

The first was due to miscommunication between Kitna and Jason Witten, who broke off his option route. Kitna threw it where he thought Witten would end up. Poor timing caused the second interception. Kitna threw behind Kevin Ogletree, who tipped the ball, and the 49ers intercepted it.

Those types of miscues are understandable considering the starting quarterback gets virtually all of the work with the starters during a regular-season practice. Consider how much criticism Romo received after the Week 1 loss to the Jets, and it would surprise no one if Romo took every snap last week.

For a moment, focus on the touchdown pass Kitna threw to Miles Austin in the corner of the end zone.

It was a terrific touch pass. An inch lower and it probably would've been deflected by the cornerback. An inch higher and it might have sailed out of the back of the end zone.

With a week's worth of practice, we'll see a version of Kitna who's pretty close to the guy who passed for 2,365 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in nine games.

Kitna is the NFL's eighth-leading active passer with 29,745 yards, 169 touchdowns and 165 interceptions. The New York Jets' Mark Brunell is the only backup quarterback with more career passing yards than Kitna, but he's thrown only 22 passes since 2006.

The only backup quarterback you might prefer over Kitna is Young, but he lost his starting job to Kerry Collins last year and didn't come close to landing a starting job once the lockout ended, all of which speaks volumes.

The Redskins are 2-0, but can you really fear a team with Rex Grossman at quarterback -- even if Mike Shanahan is head coach? Nope.

The Cowboys can beat the Redskins at home -- in spite of their plethora of injuries -- with Kitna playing quarterback. We don't know if that's the case with the next two opponents, the rejuvenated Detroit Lions and the New England Patriots after the bye week.

That's why this is the week to rest Romo, if he needs it.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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