Commentary

Time to give Tony Romo his due

Often underappreciated, quarterback still gives Cowboys best chance to win big

Updated: October 18, 2013, 9:11 PM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Tony Romo, one of only two undrafted free agents starting at quarterback in the NFL, makes his 100th career start Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys visit the Philadelphia Eagles.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo, Jay Cutler
AP Photo/LM OteroNo small feat: Tony Romo and Jay Cutler will both be making their 100th career starts Sunday.

For just a minute, let's all stop focusing on the few things he doesn't do well and take some time to appreciate one of the league's better quarterbacks.

Sure, Romo is infuriating at times, but that's only because we see the immense talent. He creates big plays out of chaos better than virtually every other quarterback in the league.

There's an artistry to his game, a flow and a rhythm that's beautiful to watch when he's in sync -- as he was two weeks ago against Denver, when he passed for 506 yards and five touchdowns. Yes, the late interception tainted the performance. Overall, though, it was yet another reminder that Romo remains one of just a handful of quarterbacks capable of dominating a game.

Starting 100 games at quarterback, the most difficult position in professional sports, is a special achievement. Just so you know, only nine current starting NFL quarterbacks have started at least 100 regular-season games. On Sunday, Romo and Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will become the 10th and 11th members of that active fraternity. See, it's not easy to survive the physical and mental demands of the position. The time commitments from coaches, teammates, family, business associates and media never end.

And we haven't even talked about playing the game, which is all about the quarterback. You have no chance in today's NFL without a quality signal-caller.

"The hardest part of the job is that you're dependent on everyone else to do your job," said backup Kyle Orton, who's started 69 games in the NFL. "You can play well, but it doesn't matter if everyone else isn't doing their job."

Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman are the only quarterbacks in Cowboys franchise history with more starts than Romo. Aikman started 165 games, while Staubach directed 114. Danny White started 92 games, and Don Meredith, who retired after an 11-2 season in 1968, started 85.

"It's a hard thing to do," coach Jason Garrett said of starting 100 games in the NFL. "When people talk about Brett Favre and they talk about all of statistics -- the passing yards and the completions and the touchdown passes -- the one number I always think about is the consecutive-game streak.

"[Favre] started 297 consecutive games. He was available every Sunday, and that's Line 1 in the NFL. Are you out there? Durability is important."

Line 2, though, is how many games have you won. For Romo, the answer is always not quite enough games.

For that, we can blame Romo's biggest supporters -- Staubach and Aikman. It's not that Staubach and Aikman set the standard so high with their Hall of Fame careers, it's that each of them consistently played his best football when it mattered most.

Romo hasn't.

You can come up with a hundred different reasons why he hasn't. Maybe more, if given enough time, but that won't change the truth.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/LM OteroTony Romo may have his flaws, but he is one of the rare quarterbacks capable of dominating a game.

Staubach earned two Super Bowl rings, and Aikman won three. But it's not just about rings. The biggest complaint about Romo is that he doesn't win big games. Or he has a penchant for making mistakes at the worst possible time. Critics cite Romo's 1-6 record in win-or-go-home games, while his supporters talk about the flawed teams he's quarterbacked.

Still, there's no shame in not measuring up to Staubach and Aikman in big-game performances.

Staubach was nicknamed Captain Comeback; his Hail Mary touchdown pass to Drew Pearson is one of the NFL's iconic plays. Aikman won nine of the first 10 playoff games he started and has a Super Bowl MVP award on his résumé.

Romo has one playoff win.

By the time he retires, Romo will own virtually every notable passing record in franchise history. His career passer rating is 96.4, fourth-best in NFL history.

But all too many folks see are the flaws.

The reality is we've been spoiled around here. Meredith retired after the 1968 season and Staubach joined the Cowboys in 1969. Two years later, the Cowboys won 11 games and their first Super Bowl.

When Staubach retired after the 1979 season, White led the Cowboys to the NFC Championship Game each of the next three seasons. He started his last game in 1987 and Aikman arrived in 1989.

Except for a couple of years here and there, the Cowboys had excellent quarterback play from 1962 to 2000.

Then came the drought.

From the time Aikman retired after the 2000 season until Romo took over, Quincy Carter, Anthony Wright, Ryan Leaf, Clint Stoerner, Chad Hutchinson, Vinny Testaverde, Drew Henson and Drew Bledsoe started games for the Cowboys.

Those guys gave the Cowboys no chance to win big.

Romo does. Seriously.

So enjoy him.

When he's gone in a few years, there's zero guarantee a worthy successor will arrive quickly.

Otto Graham played his last game for the Cleveland Browns in 1955. He remains that franchise's standard at quarterback.

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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