Commentary

Tony Romo: What's his story?

Adored, despised, Cowboys QB must play best in big games to change reputation

Updated: September 6, 2013, 2:27 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo's narrative reads like this: Great fantasy football quarterback and one of the best in the NFL ... unless you need to win a game to get into the playoffs.

After all, we're talking about a player with a 55-38 record as a starter, 177 career touchdowns and only 91 interceptions. We're talking about a dude who engineered five fourth-quarter comebacks last season, giving him a total of 18.

That's more comeback wins than Troy Aikman (16), and Roger Staubach (15), the Dallas Cowboys' two Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

Normally, a player with those credentials would be beloved in his city.

Not so.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsDespite a 55-38 record as a starter, Tony Romo is 1-6 in win-or-go-home games.

As he enters his seventh season as a full-time starter, Romo has a split allegiance: There are seemingly just as many locals who hate him as those who love him. No good quarterback in the league is as adored and despised.

It's 50-50 for Romo, who's still known just as much for his botched hold against Seattle in 2006, his ill-fated trip to Cabo San Lucas in 2007 and his 1-6 record in win-or-go-home games as his successes on the gridiron.

Romo had an opportunity to change at least some of that narrative in the regular-season finale against the Washington Redskins last season. Instead, he threw three interceptions in a 28-18 loss.

The last interception came late in the fourth quarter with the outcome in doubt, dropping Romo's record to 17-21 since the start of the 2010 season.

Fortunately, narratives aren't permanent.

Dirk Nowitzki changed his, when the Dallas Mavericks won a title in 2011. Josh Hamilton's narrative changed when he quit on the Texas Rangers three times in the final six weeks of last season. And Dez Bryant has changed his narrative with a phenomenal season for the Cowboys in 2012 and a quiet summer off the field.

See, we all know Romo is a terrific quarterback; even Romo haters must admit that.

The question is whether Romo will play his best football in the biggest games, the ones that occur in December and January, the ones that determine playoff participants and champions. Do that and Romo's narrative changes. No doubt.

The process began this offseason, when he demanded more input into the game plans and changed his throwing motion in hopes of becoming an even more accurate passer.

But it starts in earnest Sunday night against the New York Giants and Eli Manning -- who is 4-0 in Jerry Jones' $1.2 billion stadium.

The process won't be complete until the Cowboys win a game or two in the playoffs ... or when some player other than Romo is blamed for a Cowboys loss in the postseason.

Romo doesn't think like that. Like Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, he's concerned only with having a good walk-through, practice and series of meetings each day. Do that every day and Romo believes the wins and losses will take care of themselves.

Jones and Garrett have done every conceivable thing in the offseason to help Romo succeed, as they should have.

They have essentially made him the de facto offensive coordinator. The man with the actual title, Bill Callahan, and quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson have even altered their schedules so that Romo can have input on the front end of creating the game plan.

This is good.

You want Romo to feel good about every part of the game plan, from the plays to the audibles to the pass protections.

Jones and Garrett used the club's first three draft picks on offensive players -- center Travis Frederick, tight end Gavin Escobar and receiver Terrance Williams -- to make the offense as Romo-friendly as possible.

And just this week they signed veteran guard Brian Waters -- a six-time Pro Bowl player who didn't play last season -- to eventually start at right guard and give Romo the pocket he has craved the past few seasons.

These days, Romo has as many quality weapons as any quarterback in the league.

Seriously.

Bryant. Jason Witten. Miles Austin. DeMarco Murray. Sure they must stay healthy, but we could say that about every team's best players.

Now, Jones and Garrett simply need Romo to play his best football.

It starts with making good decisions. Many of the 19 interceptions he threw last season were the result of dumb decisions or indiscriminate throws under duress.

At 33, Romo knows better. We've seen him have long streaks of good decision making and performance in the past, which has usually coincided with strong results from him and the team.

Do that and the Cowboys will win games. And Romo can change his narrative.

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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