- Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPNDallas.com
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IRVING, Texas -- The more you think about it, this is all Tony Romo's fault.
Jerry's Jones' rage. Jason Garrett's future. The Dallas Cowboys missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.
Blame Romo. For all of it.
Is that fair? Absolutely.
Romo had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2012, but he's still going to sign another long-term deal worth $60-$80 million this offseason.
The reality is, directly or indirectly, Romo is the reason the Cowboys fired running backs coach Skip Peete and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. He's the reason Garrett and newly-hired defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin are the only souls on the staff with zero questions about their job status, even though we all know Garrett is on the NFL's hottest seat these days.
The legion of apologists can make any excuse it wants, but Romo had the ball in his hands 71 yards from exhilaration -- 40 yards from a legit opportunity at overtime -- with 3:06 and three timeouts left to make it happen.
Six seconds later, Romo had thrown yet another indiscriminate pass leading to a catastrophic interception by Washington Redskins linebacker Rob Jackson, who was covering DeMarco Murray near the left sideline.
The melancholy expression. The soft voice. The pledges to improve. We've seen and heard it many times.
Romo's last game of the season was a sorry three-interception performance from start to finish, completely unexpected for a dude who had thrown 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions in the previous seven games.
The difference between 9-7 and 8-8 is the difference between getting a tooth pulled and a root canal. Or a yacht and a bass boat. Think about how different the franchise's direction would be if Romo had led the Cowboys to their sixth come-from-behind win in the fourth quarter this season.
Just getting into the playoffs would mean so much to a moribund franchise that's 128-128 since 1997. We're talking about a team that's just one of three franchises -- Washington and Detroit are the others -- not to play in an NFC championship game since 1997.
Romo is your quarterback for the foreseeable future, so you might as well get used to the idea, but his performance betrayed Garrett's trust in him -- and that's a problem.
Garrett trusts Romo implicitly. He coddles the quarterback. My lasting image of the duo this season is watching Garrett sidle up to Romo after the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul returned Romo's third interception of the first half for a touchdown and a 23-0 lead.
Garrett slipped his arm around Romo's waist and whispered sweet nothings to him. Sometimes, you dole out a hug and a kiss. Other times, more forceful language is required.
Hey, it couldn't hurt.
Romo remains a quality quarterback. That's not worth debating.
Check with the GMs in Philadelphia, Minnesota, Arizona, Buffalo, Miami, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Oakland and Kansas City -- and the New York Jets, whenever they hire one -- and each would sell their soul for Romo.
You can't be a bad quarterback with a touchdown/interception differential of +86 and a career passer rating of 95.6.
The game, however, has always been about more than numbers. Romo has set a litany of passing records for the Cowboys, but there's only number we care about in Dallas-Fort Worth: one playoff win.
Romo needs a head coach or an offensive coordinator who will build an offense and consistently create game plans that don't require him to be the epicenter.
It should be clear to all involved that he can't handle that responsibility over 16 games.
That means a quality running game and offensive line so Romo doesn't have to throw the ball 40 times a game for the Cowboys to win. The more times Romo throws the ball, the higher the propensity for Romo to make one of those mind-numbing mistakes.
The Cowboys lost each of the three games in which Romo threw for 400 yards. They were 3-5 when he threw the ball more than 40 times.
It's not a coincidence.
At 32 after nine seasons and 93 starts in his career, it's fair to assume Romo will be a gunslinger until the day he retires.
You wonder how many head coaches and assistants will lose their jobs along the way.
Tony Romo deserves blame for Cowboys' upheaval, needs less responsibility going forward.