After basically single-handedly blowing his own team's season opener against the New York Jets with an unfortunate red zone fumble and a very ill-advised last-second interception, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo had to spend a week listening to the same old (well-deserved) criticisms — for all his talent, he tends to choke up in key situations and fails to understand the importance of the situation on the field. Basically, he's Brett Favre from the neck up (a great, if streaky, improviser), and Tony Romo everywhere else (an effective, but somewhat physically limited, quarterback).
On Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, Romo answered back with what could be a career-defining performance in a 27-24 overtime victory. Winning by the same score the Cowboys lost to the Jets in Week 1, Romo totally flipped the script. Not only did he look great in the stat column — 20 of 33 for 354 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions — but Romo did most of that with a fractured rib that he suffered near halftime. At one point, Romo was listed as out for the rest of the game, but he came back, gutted it out, and put in a wonderful performance that should keep America off his back for a week or so.
After backup Jon Kitna played much of the third quarter, Romo came back in with 37 seconds left in the third quarter, and the Cowboys down, 24-14. Few expected the injured version of the supposedly un-clutch quarterback to drive his team back to a victory, but that's exactly what he did. Not only did he complete a beautiful touchdown pass to Miles Austin with 6:55 left in the game, but Romo also drove his team downfield for Dan Bailey's tying field goal at the end of regulation, and caught receiver Jesse Holley on a deep pass that went for 77 yards in overtime and facilitated Bailey's 19-yard game-winner with 12:10 remaining in the extra period.
Romo, who missed the last 10 games of the 2010 season with a collarbone injury, originally looked ready to come back into the game at the start of the third quarter after receiving X-rays and treatment between halves. But someone changed their mind — leading to a very unhappy-looking Romo leaving the field — and then changed it again. Romo suffered several hard hits from the 49ers' defense behind the Cowboys' porous offensive line, and had to be helped up by a teammate on at least one occasion.
According to Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, it was a word from Romo that convinced him to put his star quarterback back in the game. "Eventually, what was convincing was, 'At some point I'm going to play with this thing, so why not now?'" Garrett said, recalling what Romo had said to him. "It's about a quarterback, but it's really about a football player and a competitor. And Tony is that. One of the best competitors I've ever been around."
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones concurred. "It's got to be one of those things that will follow him through his career," Jones said after the game. "I know what it was here in the locker room at halftime. I know what he had to do to get back on the field.
"I know what he had to do before [painkillers] took hold to relieve him from his pain. But, boy, did he come back. That was inspirational."
Despite missing his leading receiver Dez Bryant due to a quadriceps injury, Romo found several stars and distributed the ball very well. Austin caught all three of the Cowboys' touchdown passes — two from Romo and one from Kitna — and tight end Jason Witten was his usual consistent self with seven catches for 102 yards.