Only Tony Romo. Only the Dallas Cowboys. Only in December.
In what surely will be remembered as the most preposterous regular-season choke in franchise history, the most volatile quarterback in recent NFL history threw two fourth-quarter interceptions to complete a 23-point meltdown in the second half that might define him over all the other meltdowns that already define him.
Leave aside how the Cowboys went into halftime Sunday against the Green Bay Packers with a 26-3 lead. Leave aside how a win over said Packers, led by wayward backup Matt Flynn, would have pulled the Cowboys even with Philadelphia in the win column and, with a victory in hand over the Eagles, atop the NFC East. Leave aside how the Dallas defense allowed touchdowns on every single second-half possession (except for when the Packers went into the victory formation).
Romo could have easily put this game away by simply using his penultimate drive to turn around and hand off to running back DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys were ahead, 36-31, and Murray was gashing the Pack to the tune of more than 7 yards per carry. Instead, the Cowboys threw on not one, not two, but three straight downs. They moved the chains, used the next first down to hand off to Murray, and then Romo threw again. The result was almost as predictable as it was unimaginable: a Sam Shields interception that led to the game-losing touchdown.
Romo admitted he changed the play, a designed run for Murray.
Coach Jason Garrett didn't shield his quarterback in explaining the ill-fated pass to reporters.
"The idea was to run the ball and make them use clock," Garrett said. "Run it. If we throw, throw high percentage passes to keep the clock going and make them use their timeouts. Tony threw a pass on what we call a smoke, or a flash – something we have accompanying some runs if he gets a bad look – and that's what happened on the interception. It was a run call though that he threw the ball on."
"Inexplicable," blurted Fox's Joe Buck, and he was both right and wrong. It's inexplicable to throw when falling down would have worked better.
But it's not inexplicable.
It's Tony Romo.
The man has a flair for the inexplicable. And whether he changed that fateful play from a run to a throw is almost beside the point. He chucked the ball when he shouldn't have. He made the defining mistake that may cost the Cowboys yet another season.
As if that wasn't enough, Romo threw a game-cinching pick to Tramon Williams on Dallas' final drive. Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant then did what pretty much every man, woman and child in Dallas would like to do: turn his back on Romo. Cameras caught Bryant storming off the field, and then appropriately panned to the quarterback, giving his thousand-yard stare on the sideline.
No, it wasn't Romo who allowed Matt Flynn to score at will on the Cowboys' home field. No, it wasn't Romo who called those first three pass plays on the second-to-last drive (we can only hope). And no, this doesn't mean the end of the Cowboys' playoff hopes. But yes, it's another chapter in the cringe-inducing Book of Tony. For three straight seasons now, he's been on the verge of the playoffs and then done something staggeringly woeful to risk (or ruin) the hopes of every fan of America's Team.
What's even more singular about this epic collapse is how Romo had his usual flashes of brilliance along the way. He threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which not only should have been the game-winner, but should have been the highlight that placed the Cowboys close to a division title. Romo's fourth-quarter pass to Bryant in the back of the end zone was fantastic, with Bryant reaching over and through two Packers and still getting his feet down to help bolster Dallas' lead to 12 points.
One would think a win against a backup quarterback in D.C. with no defense would be in the bag next week, but we've now seen this horror flick before. We saw it Sunday. It could happen again, with the result being playoff elimination with a loss and an Eagles win against the Chicago Bears.
There are plenty of stats that show how good Romo can be in the clutch. He has had more fourth-quarter comebacks than most quarterbacks in the history of the game. It's not that he does something like this all the time, or even often. It's that he does something like this in the most stunning, remote-control-throwing way. His career should be remembered for passing and scoring, and a noble effort to lift a team that had more holes than a Cowboys team ever should. Instead, and especially after Sunday, it will be remembered for train wrecks.
The Romo era isn't all about one man's mistakes.
It just seems that way.