Is Tony Romo A Clutch Quarterback?
Few would have guessed that at the beginning of 2014 the Dallas Cowboys would be vying for the top spot of the NFC East: everyone, including myself, assumed that the Philadelphia Eagles would have run away with it by now — not based on talent, but sheer weakness of the division. Yet, as the above picture emphasizes Tony Romo’s cool demeanor while practicing in North London — before their one-sided rout of Jacksonville — the Cowboys are calmly entering their bye in second place with a 7-3 record. And a part of the success could be placed, dare I say, on Tony Romo’s shoulders — he has nearly 2,300 yards, 68.8 completion percentage, 18 touchdowns, 6 interceptions and a passer rating of 107.2 — with the majority of the load being carried by DeMarco Murray’s record-breaking season.
However, though Murray has been having a wonderful season, the world saw what happened to the run game minus Romo: a crushing loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Romo’s passing threat allows the box to be fairly open for Murray — the rest of the ridiculous numbers is from Murray’s skills. But when you put someone like Brandon Weeden at quarterback, then the defense will purposively stuff the box to stop the run: basically egging the quarterback to beat them in the air.
With this said, as the Cowboys go into the bye week, all of America wonders will the team collapse again and miss the playoffs. As many writers have been eager to point out, good old Tony has an abysmal 14-21 starting record in December: and while some of those losses were not his fault, Romo has never been able to shake the idea of losing big time games. It has forever clouded his appearance and many believe it will haunt his legacy: something that seems as crazy as saying Peyton Manning is not one of the greatest quarterbacks because of his 11-12 playoff record.
So first and foremost, to truly observe the mysterious notion of being clutch—a highly debated topic these days — one has to observe several key statistical areas: Dallas Cowboys record before Romo — aka can all of this really be blamed on him — the quarterback’s fourth quarter numbers and finally his stats in win or go home scenarios.
As one would expect, the Dallas Cowboys where in a tailspin dive as the 90s came to a close: in fact, when they won a playoff game in 2009, it was their first post season win in 13 years. At the beginning of the new century, Dallas was 37-48, with seven different starting quarterbacks in seven years. So it was not like Romo was walking into an ideal situation. He brought the franchise out of obscurity with his miracle run in 2006: at the same time, the resulting playoff was the beginning of this non-clutch stigma — he dropped the field goal hold to lose to Seattle. Ultimately, this was the biggest stage and Tony failed in spectacular fashion: a defeat to be constantly made an example of for years to come.
Now, the biggest counter argument to the Tony Romo naysayers is his actual fourth quarter statistics. And it may be a surprise to see that the Dallas QB, who is known for losing tight games, has some of the best fourth quarter statistics in the NFL. In over 140 games, he has 22 comebacks — sixth among active quarterbacks and seventeenth on the all time list — 26 game winning drives, 70 touchdowns, only 28 interceptions and a passer rating of nearly 105: in fact, he has the highest passer rating among active players, with even Peyton Manning being nearly ten points lower.
At the same time, to exclusively look at Romo’s career fourth quarter numbers and say he is clutch is as gross of a generalization as people solely looking at Romo’s bad games. One also has to look at his results during ‘win or go home scenarios.’ As previously mentioned, the famous Dallas superstar has a habit of losing on the biggest stage in spectacular fashions: lets not forget, the aforementioned Seahawks game or division losses with playoffs on the line. And in four out of the last six seasons, the Cowboys have faced division rivals in the final game in ‘win or go home scenarios:’ and the Cowboys have lost all four, three with Romo behind the center.
To make matters worse, Romo is 1-6 in these sudden death scenarios — including playoffs — with some questionable stats: 60.5 completion percentage, 217 average yards, 8 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and 77.6 passer rating. These are not horrendous numbers, but they are certainly middling: a stat line that causes a negative reaction when coinciding with the fact he plays for ‘America’s Team,’ these games were on huge platforms and some of these loses came down to a Tony Romo decision.
So it is actually quite easy to understand why Romo has been dubbed the least clutch quarterback of modern times: he will certainly aid anyone’s fantasy team, yet he cannot anchor the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl. But again, all of the Cowboys’ woes should not be placed solely on Romo: their defense has been horrendous over the years — certainly marred by some poor head office decisions — and the running game works when everyone is healthy, which until this year it has not been. So in the end is he clutch? Unfortunately, the answer lies more in the middle: with some of his stat lines really showing a collective failure. Yet, of course, there are going to be people who claim great quarterbacks lift their teams in clutch scenarios, but until they make a team-lifting statistic, I am going to sort of stick up for the aging quarterback.
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