Commentary

Tony Romo must keep Cowboys winning

With DeMarco Murray, there are no excuses for Dallas to not be a playoff contender

Updated: November 13, 2011, 9:27 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The softest part of the Dallas Cowboys' schedule occurs over the next few weeks.

Washington is dreadful these days. Miami is awful. As is Arizona. Those are the Cowboys' next three opponents.

If Tony Romo performs the way he did Sunday -- there's no good reason he shouldn't -- when this stretch of four games in 21 days ends Dec. 4, the Cowboys will be riding a five-game winning streak and positioned to make the playoffs.

Those prospects are shocking for those of us who still consider this a rebuilding season, but we should also note three weeks in an NFL season represents an eternity.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireTony Romo completed 23 of 26 passes for 270 yards, three touchdowns and a 148.4 passer rating.
Forget about asking Jason Garrett to look beyond today -- even after a 44-7 win over the Buffalo Bills, easily the most complete victory of his 17-game tenure as head coach.

All he wants to talk about is the next good walk-through practice followed by the next good meeting followed by the next good practice, all of which he hopes culminates in a good performance.

No worries, we'll look ahead for him.

Football teams constantly evolve, which is why we must be careful making snap judgments about players or teams.

What's true in Week 1 isn't always true in Week 4, or in this case, Week 10.

If you think the Cowboys are the same team with DeMarco Murray starting at running back as they were when Felix Jones or Tashard Choice started this season, then you haven't paid attention.

If you think Romo is the same quarterback with Murray in the backfield, then it's time for me to shake my head.

Murray makes Romo better, which makes the Cowboys better.

Get it?

Against Buffalo, Romo's first 11 passes netted 179 yards and touchdowns of 34, 5 and 58 yards as the Cowboys took a 21-0 lead with 12:17 left in the second quarter. This is what happens when a defense shows up determined and committed to stopping Murray.

He didn't throw an incompletion until he had completed 13 straight passes and 5:53 remained in the second quarter. By the time the first half ended, Romo had completed 18 of 19 passes for 237 yards as Dallas took a 28-7 halftime lead.

In the second half against Buffalo, he took the easy check-down passes to Murray, when the defense dictated he should, while refusing to take any unnecessary risks.

Romo played smart, finishing with a 148.4 passer rating, surpassed only by the 148.9 rating he accumulated in a 38-10 win over Tampa Bay in 2007. Romo's 88.5 completion percentage (23-of-26) broke Danny White's 28-year-old franchise record of 87.5 percent (19-of-23) against Philadelphia.

This is what Romo can do since his cracked rib has healed, and the offensive line is giving him ample time to throw.

Buffalo never even touched him. Just so you know, Romo is 28-9 when he's sacked no more than once in a game.

Romo has gone 90 passes without an interception and has just one in his past 177 attempts. A strong, consistent running game will do that for a quarterback.

Running the ball isn't really about the 20- and 30-yard runs Jones has often made since the Cowboys drafted him in the first round.

It's about the steady 4-yard gains Murray seems to always get. Those runs create the down-and-distance situations that give Garrett access to his entire playbook and allow Romo to throw the ball on his terms.

Murray rushed for 135 yards, the third time in four starts that he has rushed for at least 130 yards.

Wow.

Since Murray became the starter against St. Louis, the Cowboys are averaging 27 carries and 177 yards per game rushing. Before Murray's emergence, Romo averaged 40 passes a game. Now, he's averaging 29 per game.

That's perfect because it gives Romo enough throws to take advantage of his ability, but not so many he has an opportunity to make those knucklehead throws that make us cringe.

Miles Austin is out. For now, so is Jones. The offensive line is still trying to build cohesion. But the Cowboys are above .500 for the first time since September.

"We needed to start stacking wins together," Romo said. "I do know we're a team that understands that at some point you just have to start winning football games."

Three sorry teams with a combined record of 8-19 are all that stands between the Cowboys being a playoff contender and missing the playoffs again.

It's Romo's job to make sure the Cowboys win them. Murray's presence eliminates the excuses.

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.

ALSO SEE