Commentary

Tony Romo must be elite now, or else

Cowboys' season hinges on QB's ability to find another gear during brutal stretch

Updated: October 7, 2012, 6:46 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

Forget about last Monday's five-interception game and the stagnant offense for a moment. The Dallas Cowboys' next five weeks rest on the shoulders of quarterback Tony Romo.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireTony Romo needs to put his last performance behind him and focus on a difficult five-week stretch that begins next Sunday in Baltimore.
It's not about Romo trying to do too much, because he is and should be given credit for trying to make plays within a struggling offense. But the NFL is about results, and Romo's are not good right now.

Starting Sunday in Baltimore, Romo has to play better than his counterpart at quarterback. He can't afford to be outplayed again, as he was by the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler that Monday night in Arlington.

If he is, then this season for the Cowboys will become lost.

Romo battles the Ravens' Joe Flacco next. He visits Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 21. Eli Manning and the New York Giants, who own Cowboys Stadium with a 3-0 mark, will try to stay perfect in Arlington on Oct. 28.

Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons host the Cowboys on Nov. 4 at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons are 28-6 at home since 2008. Only one team has more home victories during the same span: Baltimore with 30. Did we mention the game with Atlanta is on "Sunday Night Football," where the Cowboys have lost their last seven games?

The Cowboys' difficult stretch ends Nov. 11, when Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles host the Cowboys.

That's five tough games, with four on the road. Lots of hotel rooms. If the Cowboys have more losses than wins in this stretch, then you need to start thinking about basketball season.

You have to forget about who messed up what route, or who missed a block leading to a sack or interception. The time has come for Romo to excel. If he wants to be considered an elite quarterback -- which he's not at the moment -- he must make people better.

He doesn't do it enough.

Romo isn't a bad quarterback, which is what former NFL MVP Joe Theismann called him last week. Romo is good.

"Well, I have to do my job. That's your objective playing in the National Football League. Obviously the competitive side of you takes over sometimes and tries to make a play or do things," Romo said after his letdown against the Bears. "The last two [interceptions] were just pushing it down the field when we're behind by 17 points. You don't make those decisions at any other point in the game, and I know better than that. You just can't make that mistake."

Dez Bryant is to blame for an interception leading to a touchdown against Chicago. But Romo has to understand his teammates' limitations. If you can't throw passes to Bryant when an adjustment is needed based on the defensive coverages, then stop throwing to him. Throw to somebody else.

At times, Romo's ability to make plays with his feet gives hope that he's everything the Cowboys thought he would be. Other times when he steps up in the pocket and tries to avoid the rush, Romo commits a turnover trying to make a play.

It drives you crazy.

"You have to balance that, and you have to understand that it's difficult to ask him to do one thing and not the other," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "But what we challenge with him is, 'Tony, I've seen you do one and not the other. I've seen you throw a lot of touchdown passes and make a lot of big plays and keep your interceptions around nine and 10 for a whole season.' He's done it before, and when you play that position in the NFL, if you want to be a good team, you have to do it again."

It's time for Romo to become an elite quarterback. Over the next five weeks, he faces a young talent in Newton, good quarterbacks trying to become elite in Ryan and Flacco, an established veteran in Vick and a two-time Super Bowl champion in Manning.

Romo seems more narrowly focused than ever. He made an intelligent decision to put off contract extension talks until the offseason. Romo declined to even talk about his decision.

You shouldn't question his commitment to the game.

But it might be time to question whether he can become an elite quarterback.

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