Riding out Tony Romo is a journey

IRVING, Texas -- One of Tony Romo's favorite songs blared over the mega-million-dollar sound system Sunday afternoon at Cowboys Stadium.

Maybe it's a good thing the fans who witnessed the biggest blown lead in franchise history were long gone by then. When it comes to the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback, "Don't Stop Believin'" might seem like a desperate plea that would fall on deaf ears.

Sorry, but it's hard not to be cynical after watching Romo give away a game for the second time in four weeks.

Of course, the Cowboys continue to have Romo's back, from the owner on down. They have no choice but to keep believing in him.

"As Tony goes," Jerry Jones said, "we'll go."

For better or worse, that's no bull. It would be silly to suggest that the Cowboys should rip the reins out of Romo's hands and give them to ol' geezer Jon Kitna, a fine backup as he nears 40 but certainly not a franchise quarterback.

Sure, if Romo just plays smart football, the Cowboys could be riding high at 4-0 entering the bye. But they'd probably be 0-4 without the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback who led game-winning drives in their two victories.

Such is life on the Romo-coaster. The question that Jones and head coach Jason Garrett need to answer -- honestly and privately -- over the next several months: How long do they really want to ride?

The rest of this season should determine how much of a priority the Cowboys should make Plan B at quarterback.

Jerry knows as well as anybody that you can't just wish your way to a franchise quarterback. For every Romo you luck into, there are a lot of Quincy Carters, Drew Hensons and Ryan Leafs.

If the Cowboys aren't completely confident in Romo, who has two more seasons remaining on his recently restructured contract, they need to try to get a quarterback who can compete for his job sooner than later. That most likely means ignoring other needs in the first round and drafting the NFL's most important position.

Such an investment certainly doesn't guarantee anything. (Did you see recent first-rounders Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco stink it up in the Sunday night game? And they're not even considered busts.) But it's the Cowboys' best chance to find an upgrade for Romo, who still ranks among the league's top 10 quarterbacks even with his warts.

"I think he's a very good starting quarterback in the National Football League," coach Jason Garrett said Monday.

Is that good enough for a franchise that judges success solely on Super Bowl wins?

It wasn't in the 1980s for Danny White, the ex-Cowboys quarterback often brought up in Romo-can't-get-it-done debates. Most fans consider the comparison to White an insult to Romo despite White's three consecutive appearances in NFC championship games, which speaks to how skewed the standard for quarterbacks is around these parts, thanks to Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman.

How well did benching White for Gary Hogeboom work? How about going with Steve Pelluer instead of White?

The Craig Morton-to-Roger Staubach type of transitions don't happen too often.

But the Cowboys have to remain firmly seated on the Romo bandwagon, as wild and rocky as it is, while quietly keeping their eyes on the road ahead.

You can't rule out Romo despite a track record of making bad decisions at what seem to be the worst times. Never say never, especially with an extremely talented, hard-working athlete, as Dirk Nowitzki taught us while leading the Dallas Mavericks to an NBA title months ago.

But it seems as if every time you really start believing in Romo, he does something to make the doubt creep in as strong as ever.

That's maybe the most maddening thing about the Romo-coaster. He was so magnificent before gift-wrapping those comebacks for the New York Jets and Detroit Lions. He shredded an elite secondary for most of the season opener before a fumble and interception made it possible for the Cowboys to lose after leading by at least 14 points in the fourth quarter for the first time in franchise history. Romo lit up the Lions for one half plus a possession, and then he suddenly throws a couple of touchdowns to the wrong team to give the Lions life. He then sets up the deciding score in the worst collapse in Cowboys history with his third pick of the second half.

When it mattered most, Romo's decision-making and the consequences were bad against the Jets. They were worse against the Lions.

"Figure out the little things as to why they happened, and I'll make sure that ..." Romo said, cutting himself off before finishing the sentence. "It's just hard."

It was as though Romo didn't want to waste his breath to say he'd learn from this experience. It'd ring hollow to echo the comments he made just a few weeks earlier.

At least he didn't spew philosophical mumbo-jumbo. He definitely learned from the backlash to his, "If this is the worst thing that ever happens to me, I'll have led a pretty good life," reaction to the 2008 Cowboys' season crashing and burning in Philadelphia.

Maybe a verse from that old Journey hit best sums up relying on Romo.

    Some will win, some will lose

    Some were born to sing the blues

    Oh, the movie never ends

    It goes on and on and on and on

The Cowboys can't just fade to black. If Romo isn't the right guy, they have to find another leading man, and that's a heck of a lot harder done than said.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.