Shutdown Corner

Fifth Quarter, Week 12: It’s time to give Tony Romo some credit at last

Jay Busbee
Shutdown Corner

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Welcome to the Fifth Quarter, the only NFL recap column you’ll ever need. It’s the only one to provide a full day’s supply of Vitamin C, after all. Here’s what was going on around the rest of the league while you were selfishly focused on your home team and your fantasy players.

I admit it. I was wrong about Tony Romo.

Look, you have no idea how hard it is to admit this. For most of the last decade, Tony Romo has been the go-to punchline, a shorthand joke for permanently unfulfilled potential, for mediocrity personified. (Before Sunday's win, Dallas was 133-133 since 1997, and 8-8 the last two seasons.) The fact that he played for the Cowboys, the team everybody loved to hate before the Patriots grabbed that mantle? So much the better.

But take another look. Yes, Romo has some high-profile screwups and the playoff pedigree of a dizzy badger. But his problem is that he seems to screw up the worst when the spotlight is the brightest. He's actually got the highest QB rating, 101.5, among active quarterbacks in the fourth quarter. He's got a nigh-unbelievable 25-6 record in November.

Take Sunday's victory over division rival New York. Romo wasn't great, but he was good enough to win. He orchestrated a final drive that put Dallas in position to win and keep pace with Philadelphia for the division lead. Dallas fans won't admit it, but they surely watched that final drive with fear in their hearts, knowing that this was the perfect moment for Romo to gift-wrap the game for the opposition.

He didn't, Dallas escaped with a 24-21 win, and Romo continued to burnish his record as the Best Quarterback When Nobody's Looking. I'm not going to go so far as to blame his teammates, but I am going to say that he's got far more talent than most give him credit for ... even if that talent seems to desert him at the worst possible times.

You'll note, for instance, some other stats: Romo is 31-33 in games decided by seven points or fewer. He's 14-19 in games in December and January. And, most damning, he's 1-3 in playoffs. One win. Four total appearances.

The best thing about America, though, is that winning cures everything. Everything. If Romo were somehow to manage to win a Super Bowl — yes, it could happen, though probably not this year — all his sins would be washed clean. It worked for Peyton Manning, it worked in golf for Phil Mickelson, it worked in basketball for LeBron James. Even just making a Super Bowl would legitimize Romo in a way that flashy regular-season stats never will.

Romo and the Cowboys will have to win three games to get to the Super Bowl. It's a tall task, but it's not impossible. And, as it is every year, it's all right there for Romo's taking.

Running down the biggest stories of Week 12. We'll try not to catch you offsides.

This ain't college, fellas. All right, that's about enough Cowboys love. If Tony Romo falls short again this year, it'll be because he has guys like this on his team:

Yeah, that's the kind of thing that'll show up in later contract negotiations.

• No wins doesn't mean no hope. Several teams went a long way into the season without a win, and many of them — Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, the Giants — are in the process of salvaging the year. Even Jacksonville has a couple signature wins. Sunday's Jacksonville victory came against Houston, which is now on the other end of the spectrum: 11 straight losses. This team cratered a month ago; they've worked their way past the earth's core now. Their only competition for worst team in the NFL is the Atlanta Falcons, who held up their end of the deal by losing this week, too.

• Andy Reid, dancin' fool. Not sure what's going on here, but one thing's for sure ... Andy Reid knows how to haul that junk in the trunk:

• What's wrong with the Colts? Who exactly is this team? Capable of beating the best in the NFC, or incapable of winning against some of the weakest teams in the game? Trent Richardson has been an earthsplitting bust, and Andrew Luck remains a bit of a mystery. The Colts will still fall right into the playoffs, but how long will a team this inconsistent remain there?

• Remember Tavon Austin's name. He came in with rookie-of-the-year juice, but Austin started slow. He's making up for it in a hurry, though:

In which we recap every game in seven words. Ready ... go!

New Orleans 17, Atlanta 13. Atlanta likes new Dome. New team also?
Baltimore 19, New York Jets 3. Geno Smith has lost control of everything.
Pittsburgh 27, Cleveland 11. Steelers latest once-winless team to roll.
Tampa Bay 24, Detroit 21. Schiano is saving his job, amazingly enough.
Minnesota 26, Green Bay 26. Ugh. A tie. Kiss your sister, everybody.
Jacksonville 13, Houston 6. Texans are cratering! Jaguars are dominating! Sorta!
San Diego 41, Kansas City 38. Pretty impressive little outing by Philip Rivers.
Carolina 20, Miami 16. Panthers bandwagon is filling up fast, friends.
St. Louis 42, Chicago 21. When Rams double you up ... not good.
Arizona 40, Indianapolis 11. Cardinals are legit, Colts remain a mystery.
Tennessee 23, Oakland 19. Titans are your current AFC #6 seed.
Dallas 24, New York Giants 21. It wasn't a banner day for Mannings.
New England 34, Denver 31. Nice that Boston gets some good news.
San Francisco at Washington. Kaepernick vs. RG3 not as compelling now.
Teams on bye: Bills, Bengals, Eagles, Seahawks

Champ: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers. Rivers is one of those guys who perpetually looks like the top of his head is about to blow off. Maybe it's the fact that he's always got a receiving corps held together by spit and masking tape, maybe it's that he's got something like 17 kids, but either way, he's far less chill than anyone who works in San Diego has a right to be. Still, he kept it together long enough to lead the Chargers to a three-point victory over Kansas City, with 392 yards and three touchdowns along the way.

Chump: Trent Richardson, Colts. Fifteen yards. That's all Richardson totaled this week. Fifteen freaking yards, as the Colts fell in an unexpected loss to Arizona. The Browns dealt Richardson for a first-rounder earlier this year; it sure looks like Cleveland made a smart decision, and those are words we never thought we'd type.

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It's time for the special Houston Texans edition of Fans of the Week. All of these pictures come from Sunday's loss to the Jaguars, which give them that extra added kick-to-the-privates flavor. Because when you can't beat Jacksonville, it's really time to pack it in and start hoping that the Rockets do something worth watching. Or bring Tebow into camp, whichever.

[Photos: Sad faces of Texans fans]

Got your own quality tailgate/party/fan photos? Hit us at jay.busbee@yahoo.com and share.

There's plenty of good writing every day on the NFL. Here are a few choice reads to keep you busy while there's no football. Because the other alternatives are talking to your family or doing chores, and nobody wants that. (Send us your favorite words of the week.)

• Best of the week: Les Carpenter's story of Big Irv, Brett Favre's dad and a key figure in his life. (Yahoo Sports)

• Is Detroit going to throw away the best chance at postseason success it's had in years? (Yahoo Sports)

• An NFL player was very close to coming out earlier this year, but an arrangement for him to do so fell apart at the last moment. Here's the story. (Bleacher Report)

• At long last, Dan Dierdorf is retiring from announcing. Here's the reason why. (The MMQB)

• Jerry Jones is crazy like a fox. Or maybe just flat-out crazy. (Sports On Earth)

Each week, we’ll make a random Super Bowl pick based on trends, stats or general nonquantifiable gut feelings. One of these weeks, we’ll be right. Probably right after both conference championships.

Patriots vs. Panthers. Neither of these teams is indisputably the best in their conference, though you could make a case that they are. No, where both have their real juice is in the ability to keep in games and come back as needed. The Panthers have won seven straight, and showed some spine in salvaging a trademark Trap Game against Miami. New England, meanwhile, staged a comeback for the ages by scoring 31 unanswered points against Denver after going down 24 at the half. We won't believe these two teams are out of the hunt until Cam Newton and Tom Brady are cackling away on the sidelines of the Pro Bowl.

Super Bowl picks, full season: Denver 4x, New Orleans 3x, New England 3x, Seattle 2x, Carolina 2x, San Francisco 2x, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Kansas City.

And that's a wrap for this week's edition of Fifth Quarter. Got a question? Comment? Concern? Rant? Hit me up at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee. We’ll run your words here or in Thursday’s weekly letters column. For now, enjoy the week. It's not long 'til more football!

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