Commentary

No more excuses for Tony Romo

Cowboys need QB to be at his best from the start to put an end to playoff drought

Updated: July 24, 2013, 1:43 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

OXNARD, Calif. -- Stop making excuses for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.

Today. And forever.

He certainly hasn't asked for them, and he doesn't need them. He's too good for the excuses that Romo lovers regularly provide.

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So not another word about the Cowboys' raggedy offensive line last season. Or the worst running game in franchise history. Or bad routes by receivers. It's not like anyone ever says Romo doesn't deserve a touchdown pass because Dez Bryant made a one-handed grab in the back of the end zone.

How about this? Let's make Romo, one of the NFL's highest-paid players, accountable for his performance -- good or bad.

Romo is a terrific quarterback, easily among the league's top 12, with a skill set that's the envy of most NFL signal-callers.

You understand that's part of his problem, right? Romo believes he can and should make every play and every throw. Maybe one day he'll figure out he can't. Until then, the Cowboys will be stuck in the muck of mediocrity because the game is about the quarterback -- and how well he plays.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsThe Cowboys are 4-15 when Tony Romo throws more than one interception in a game.

Romo seemingly goes through long stretches during which he improvises within Jason Garrett's system without making the killer mistakes that lose games. Then he'll melt down.

Sure, his receivers occasionally run bad routes, leading to interceptions. Every quarterback, from Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers to Cleveland's Brandon Weeden, deals with that -- and they didn't tie for the league lead in interceptions. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees also threw 19 interceptions, but he tossed 43 touchdown passes.

Romo hadn't thrown that many interceptions since 2007, his first full season as a starter. Excuses were acceptable then, simply because he was an inexperienced quarterback who hadn't even played at college football's highest level.

Now, he's started 93 regular-season games and thrown more than 3,200 passes.

"The arc he has taken in his career -- college free agent to the position he's put himself in during the course for 10 years -- is impressive to me," Garrett said. "He works hard to be a great leader and a great player. He's a great competitor, and he's as tough as they come. He's doing a heck of a job for us. We're lucky to have him as our quarterback."

Garrett He works hard to be a great leader and a great player. He's a great competitor, and he's as tough as they come. He's doing a heck of a job for us. We're lucky to have him as our quarterback.

-- Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett

Every quarterback gets fooled from time to time or a defensive player makes a great play, leading to an interception. We can live with those. But when he rolls right and throws left across the middle, resulting in interceptions as against Seattle and Baltimore, it just drives you crazy. And when he throws an interception because he has a defender hanging around his waist like he did against Chicago and it gets returned for an touchdown, you just shake your head.

The same goes when he throws the deep ball over the wrong shoulder on passes intended for Miles Austin against the New York Giants and in the season finale against Washington and they get intercepted. Austin has been around long enough for Romo to know how hard the receiver will fight for a jump ball. Based on what we've seen, Romo should save the jump balls for Bryant.

"He's had seasons where he's had three times more touchdowns than interceptions," Garrett said. "That's what we expect and demand from him, and that's what he demands of himself."

In 2011, Romo threw 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He was terrific, and if everyone had done their job as well as he did, the Cowboys would've made the playoffs.

Last season, he had 10 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in the first eight games and 18 touchdowns and six interceptions in the last eight.

Welcome to the Romo coaster that has had Cowboys fans screaming with exhilaration and frustration since he took over from Drew Bledsoe at halftime of the sixth game of the 2006 season.

The Cowboys, who play four of their first six games at home to start this season, need Romo to play well from the start and avoid the meltdown games that wrecked last season.

Romo threw 14 of his 19 interceptions in four games -- losses to the Chicago Bears, the Giants and twice to Washington. Just so you know, the Cowboys are 4-15 when Romo throws more than one interception in a game.

"If you look at different quarterbacks -- great ones, first-ballot Hall of Fame QBs -- when they've been in different environments, the better the environment they're in, the more they play within themselves," Garrett said. "When the environment puts more pressure on them to make all the plays, maybe they don't play as well on a consistent basis.

"I don't think this is a unique thing. We just have to make sure we get better around our quarterback so he can play his best all the time."

That's why the Cowboys used their first three draft picks on a center, a tight end and a speed receiver. Don't forget they used a fifth-round pick on a backup runner for DeMarco Murray.

The Cowboys' wretched playoff drought will extend to four seasons if Romo ties for the league lead in interceptions again.

The Cowboys' running game gained just 1,250 yards last season -- the worst in franchise history -- while averaging 3.6 yards per carry. The Cowboys' 355 rushing attempts ranked 31st in the NFL. And their abject first-quarter performances meant the Cowboys were often playing from behind. Romo threw just 83 passes with a lead last season.

Ridiculous.

This is usually when those who believe Romo is the Cowboys' messiah say, "See, it's not his fault."

But that absolves Romo of any blame for the team's poor first-quarter performances, which is silly. Perhaps if Romo played better early, the Cowboys wouldn't have to always play from behind.

Romo signed a much-discussed six-year, $108 million contract extension in the offseason, and he has unprecedented input in the offense. Only Jerry Jones wields more organizational authority.

Romo, as he should, accepts the responsibility that accompanies the money and the status of being the quarterback of America's team.

So let him have it. He doesn't need your excuses.

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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