Tony Romo chokes a lot. I know it. You know it. We all know it. Right?
Nope. YOU'RE WRONG, haters. According to a number of recent articles, Tony Romo is a fourth quarter golden god.
Take Bucky Brooks of nfl.com, for example. On Tuesday, Brooks published his list of the top 10 most clutch quarterbacks in the NFL. Tony Romo came in at number six. Six!
6) Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys: The sight of Romo's name on a list of clutch performers will make some Cowboys fans cringe, but the three-time Pro Bowler doesn't get enough credit for coming through in crucial situations. Romo is one of the most efficient fourth-quarter quarterbacks, completing 69.6 percent of his passes and compiling a 105.6 passer rating in the final period last season. Critics, of course, will point out some memorable interceptions with the game on the line, but the fact that he has orchestrated 11 fourth-quarter comebacks in the past three seasons suggests that he routinely comes through for the Cowboys when it matters. Now, I know these truths won't absolve Romo from the harsh criticism of some unrealistic football fans, but this should shed some light on why NFL evaluators hold the quarterback in high regard as a clutch playmaker.
This sentiment was echoed in CBS' Pete Prisco's infamous overrated-overrated list, where Romo was listed as underrated.
Underrated: QB Tony Romo -- Yes, Romo. Without him, the Cowboys stink. And let's please stop the narrative that he's bad in the fourth quarter. He was really good in that quarter last season.
In some ways, they're right. Without Romo, the Cowboys wouldn't have sniffed eight wins last season. The reality is that Romo has been carrying that team to mediocrity for years, when they really should have been far worse. Romo does have some good late game performances to his credit, and his passer rating in the fourth quarter has been the best in the NFL over the last three seasons.
But let's not pretend that Romo has just had "some memorable interceptions with the game on the line," as Brooks suggests, and many others actually believe. To put a firm number on it, I count six games over the last three seasons in which Romo committed some sort of late game gaffe that helped cost the Cowboys a game. In other words, he's good for two devastating late game moments per year, in a period of his career well after his reputation as a late-game choke artist had already been formed.
Let's review those, in gif form:
Week 1, 2011: Cowboys at Jets
Tie score, Cowboys at their own 41, 1st down, less than a minute to go. It should either be a Dallas win, or overtime. Romo is flushed from the pocket, and throws a completely ill-advised pass to a bracketed Dez Bryant. Darrelle Revis makes the easy pick, the Jets kick a FG, and the Cowboys start the season 0-1.
Week 4, 2011: Lions at Cowboys
The Cowboys amassed a huge 27-3 second half lead over the Lions, when Romo Romo'd like he's never Romo'd before.
Week 13, 2011: Cowboys at Cardinals
This one doesn't involve an interception. Rather, it's a complete and total bungling of time management. With 31 seconds to go and two timeouts in their pocket, the Cowboys are facing a tough 3rd and 11, and they convert! Great!
Here's what every Cowboys fan from coast to coast must have been saying after this completion:
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?!? CALL TIIIIIIIMMMMEEEEEEOOOOOUUUUTTTTT!!!!!!!!!"
Instead, after Bryant makes the catch with about 25 seconds left on the clock, the Cowboys are unable to spike it until the clock winds down to seven seconds. Awful. Now they have to settle for a 48 yard field goal attempt, but at least they have two timeouts they'll never use.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett proceeds to ice his own kicker, who makes his first attempt (which didn't count), but on the one that did count...
Garrett caught most of the heat for this gaffe, since he iced his kicker. There were also questions as to who had authority to call timeout in that situation. In my opinion, if you're a QB, this is such a no-brainer situation to call a timeout it should have been automatic, regardless of whether or not your head coach is asleep at the wheel.
Prior to this game, the Cowboys were 7-3. However, the Cardinals wound up winning this game in overtime, which began a 1-4 finish to the Cowboys' season, and no playoffs.
But can you really put this game on Romo? Hell yes. It's the quarterback's job to put his team in the best position to win. If the Cowboys call timeout, at a minimum, they get to run at least one more play, and perhaps make it an easier attempt for their kicker. It's the total lack of football awareness in this case that is so damning.
Week 17, 'NFC East Championship Game,' 2012: Cowboys at Redskins
A little over three minutes to go, Cowboys down three, and a chance to win the division on the line. Romo doesn't see Rob Jackson drop into the flat, and you know the rest.
Week 5, 2013: Broncos at Cowboys
Tie score in an epic shootout with Peyton Manning, 2nd and 16, just over two minutes to go. Romo tries to force a throw into tight coverage, and when his front foot lands on his left tackle's foot, juuuuust enough velocity is taken off his throw. The result is an INT.
Maybe you can forgive Romo to some extent here. To begin, he threw for 506 yards in this game, and he may have felt like he had to force the issue because his crappy defense wasn't going to stop Peyton Manning if the Cowboys had to punt. Still, this game was a microcosm of Romo's career -- Gaudy numbers, but falling short in the biggest moment.
Week 15, 2013: Packers at Cowboys
Cowboys down one, less than a minute and a half to go. In this game, Romo threw for 358 yards. But again, here's the finish.
Ignore the referees signaling an incomplete catch. It was reviewed and easily overturned.
But what about the 11 fourth quarter game winning drives?!?
"Fourth quarter game winning drives" is one of the dumbest, misleading stats in football. Take this 2012 game against the Eagles, for example. Note the score, the quarter, and the time left on the clock...
Let's watch Romo at his 'Captain Comeback' best.
The Cowboys retained the lead for the remaining 13+ minutes of this game, and Romo got credit for a fourth quarter game winning drive. Romo does it again!
And then there was this heroic game winning drive with 14:26 left against the Raiders last season...
And who can forget the time Romo knelt the ball in the center of the field for a game-winning field goal in overtime after this INT return to the one yard line by Brandon Carr.
Watch as Romo sets it up for his kicker to bang in the winning FG.
That's true late game magic.
But yeah, the notion that Tony Romo often finds a way to lose late in games is a "narrative" invented by haters and absorbed like a sponge by half-wits who don't know squat about football.
Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski