Cowboys' Romo on late-game roll, and might even be rewriting narrative of repeated failures

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IRVING, Texas — Tony Romo can't make the big play or win the big game. The Dallas quarterback will always make the big mistake.

That's the narrative Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked about on his radio show Friday, with Romo now on a three-game streak of huge throws on late drives going back to the playoffs last season. Included in that run is Dez Bryant's catch that wasn't, a pivotal play in a divisional round loss to Green Bay.

"Let's don't spend a lot of our time talking about the narrative, although we are all aware of what you're talking about when you say, 'the narrative,'" Jones said. "I want to restate it: If he should go through a career with the Cowboys and not have knocked on the door — I'm going to go as far as say won a Super Bowl — it would be my biggest disappointment having owned this team.

"He is a quarterback that can win Super Bowls. He is a franchise quarterback. He's who I want as opposed to a choice throughout the league."

Yes, "the narrative" could very well be changing, although there's probably no way Romo can completely rewrite it without winning a Super Bowl, or getting close. But consider the following as the Cowboys (1-0) get set to face NFC East rival Philadelphia (0-1) on Sunday.

Romo has a seven-game streak of 100-plus passer ratings, including the two playoff games last January. It's the longest current streak in the NFL — four more than New England's Tom Brady at No. 2 — and the run includes 19 touchdowns with just three interceptions in that span.

He converted a game-saving fourth down with a pass to Jason Witten on a late drive to beat Detroit in the wild-card round last season. Romo found Witten again with 7 seconds left in a 27-26 win over the New York Giants in last weekend's opener.

In between, in a second-round playoff contest at Lambeau Field, he decided to go deep to Dez Bryant on fourth-and-2 with the Cowboys driving against the Packers in the fourth quarter. The throw was just about perfect, and the play was ruled a catch. The replay that overturned the call was talked about the entire offseason.

Eight years earlier, though, the offseason was filled with talk of Romo's flub of the snap on a field goal that could have beaten Seattle in the playoffs.

Then there was the interception at the goal line of a playoff-opening loss to the Giants a year later when the Cowboys were the top seed in the NFC.

Then came repeated losses in season finales that could have sent Dallas to the playoffs, including the stigma of three straight 8-8 seasons even though Romo was out with a back injury for the last of those in 2013.

"When the Cowboys went 8-8, I called him an average quarterback," said Joe Theismann, who led Washington to consecutive Super Bowls, winning the first after the 1982 season. "But what is 8-8, if not average? Then all of a sudden things happen around him, and all of a sudden his game gets elevated."

By that, Theismann mostly means an offensive line that includes three first-round picks since 2011: left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. But Theismann also credits Romo, and illustrates it by saying he doesn't believe the offense will be slowed with All-Pro receiver Bryant sidelined at least a month with a broken right foot.

"This isn't a mirage," Theismann said. "This is Tony Romo, an upper-echelon quarterback in the National Football League."

Eagles coach Chip Kelly says Romo flourishes through his ability to put players in the right places and get the Cowboys in the right play. Kelly also says those traits show up late in the games through winning drives similar to the one that beat the Giants last weekend.

"He's as good as anybody playing right now," Kelly said.

Romo says he's actually drawing on the experience of the 8-8 years, when the Cowboys frequently rallied in the fourth quarter to win.

"Either you're going to be comfortable in these situations, or you're going to lose a lot of them," he said. "You just have to execute under that feeling."

With Romo coming off three back injuries in a span of 18 months last year, DeMarco Murray eased the load by leading the NFL in carries (392, the most in eight years) and yards rushing (1,845).

Romo had the most efficient season of his career with a franchise-record 113.2 passer rating, and was his most competent late in the season with one interception in the last six games. Receiver Cole Beasley just isn't sure that means Romo is on a roll.

"I just think he's just good, man," Beasley said. "You can argue him with the Tom Bradys and the Aaron Rodgers and the Peyton Mannings all day to me. He's just a great quarterback. And he's going to be at his best when his best is needed."

Romo might be converting more critics outside his locker room.

"He won me over a year ago," Theismann said. "What we saw last year was the way Tony Romo can play football."

His owner has been a believer a lot longer than that.


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