Tony Romo: A Single Performance or a Prelude?

Quarterback Tony Romo is an interesting study. There are days when Bad Tony Romo does nothing. He doesn’t get enough time to throw, he panics and then he turtles. In those games, he and his Dallas Cowboys tend to get ripped.

And then there is the Good Tony Romo, the guy who showed up Wednesday night at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. That Tony Romo was spectacular.

Tony Romo beats the Giants.

Just check the numbers: 22-for-29 for 307 yards and three touchdowns. He did toss one interception, but considering he got very little protection, it was one of the best performances Romo has turned in since the late 2000s.

This is a guy, after all, who has never handle adversity very well. When he gets the big rush, he tends to find refuge on the turf. In fact, it was an unnamed linebacker who once said, “Romo? Man, with Romo you just put on the pressure, he’ll panic and then he’ll go fetal.”

Perhaps that has changed.

In the 2012 National Football League season opener this past Wednesday night in New Jersey, Romo looked like a different quarterback. He was rushed relentlessly. In fact, most observers felt that the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul was the best player on the field. And Pierre-Paul was great despite the fact many of his D-line mates were banged up and didn’t get a big defensive stop in the second half.

But that might also have been because Romo sucked it up and played a tremendous game.

Romo was an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois who was signed by the Cowboys as a free agent in 2003 and made his NFL debut in 2004. He has put up some outstanding numbers in the NFL and yet he has never quite been given the credit that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones believes he should get.

Romo beats the defending Super Bowl champions.

Granted, much of his fame has come from the women he’s dated – singer Jessica Simpson and now his “wife,” the former Miss Missouri, Candice Crawford – and even more has come from his golfing exploits (he’s a heck of a golfer).

It’s also been suggested by many NFL pundits that he might not be smart enough to compete with the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees in the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks.

Romo once told the Dallas Morning News: “You try and work hard and get better each week. I play the game with passion. I enjoy the game. It’s a lot of fun when I’m out there. That’s the way I play. For some reason, people like that.

Romo avoids another rush.

Huh? OK, so it’s word soup, not an actual answer to a reporter’s question, but it doesn’t mean he’s dumb.

In fact, he also said this to ESPN in 2008: “I think some guys have the ability to learn from themselves and get better. Those are the guys that last a long time and continue to improve in this league and in sports in general.”

OK, so the syntax might not be perfect, but the thought is profound. This is a 32-year-old guy who knows he has to get better despite the fact he’s playing in his ninth season as the Cowboys starter. This is a guy who knows he has lots to learn even while the people who fawn all over him have told him that he’s the greatest thing since the invention of the Snuggie.

So he goes through his career as a guy with monster skills and great physical gifts and yet gets hammered by fans and the media because he’s never won a Super Bowl. Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl but nobody called him “dumb,” or unable to handle on-field pressure.

“I remember watching all that film of Tony Romo and I don’t remember a dumb guy or a guy who couldn’t play the game if he was pressured,” former all-pro safety John Lynch told ESPN. “I played against Romo and I’ll tell ya, the guy has skills. He has as good a pair of feet as anybody playing quarterback in the NFL. Just when you think you’ve got him (just like the Giants did on Wednesday night), he can slip out of the pocket and make a play. He’s a big guy, a strong guy with a great arm and if his offensive line gives him time to throw, he can take you apart.”

Finding a receiver.

On Wednesday, Romo won his season opener by finding his most gifted receiver, Miles Austin, open for a 34-yard touchdown pass. There was just a little bit more than six minutes left on the clock and the play gave the Cowboys an insurmountable 24-10 advantage. Giants QB Eli Manning drove the ball back down the field for a final Giants score but it was way too little, way too late. The defending Super Bowl champions had been beaten in their own house by a guy that they figured they could chase right into the Hudson River.

One game does not make a season. One game does not make a guy an All-Pro. But the veteran, and very talented, Tony Romo showed a national TV audience that isn’t so dumb and he isn’t so afraid to play hard and win big games.

It was a great start to his ninth season as a starter, and Tony Romo might just have given us a taste of what he’s capable of achieving in the right environment.

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