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Tony Romo Just Can't Help Himself

"Hey, you! Yeah, you, Revis! It's coming your way!"
Zuma Press

Tony Romo is a strip club at last call. And this time isn't like all those other nights, when 2 a.m. rolled around, the lights came on and no matter all the personal conversations and business transactions being forged, the girls vanished, and you were ushered out shoulder-to-slumped-shoulder with the other naive losers tricked into thinking they were on the verge of winning.

No, tonight's featured dancer has kickin' curves. Sultry eyes. And, in an upset, she wants you. Couple of drinks. Witty banter. A hand on your leg. Whisper in your ear. Boom, she takes it all off. Well, not all of it. But almost. And she's agreed to join you for late-night breakfast.

But under the fluorescent light of the parking lot street lamp, she's suddenly less than hot. As she tromps to her car in baggy blue jeans and a too-tight T-shirt, she clumsily spills her bag. And as she bends over to pick up her keys, she exposes love handles, bad tattoos and stark reality. She's on the phone, cussing her latest ex- to "watch the kids a little longer." Oh, make no mistake, she still wants you. But only for a cigarette light, a jump for her Fiero's dead battery and that tall stack of Waffle House pancakes you promised.

That's right. It's happened. Again. One night a blonde, the next a brunette. The details change but the Cowboys' ultimate tease remains their attractive, engaging, infuriatingly deceitful quarterback.

Admit it. I will. On Opening Night against the New York Jets, I got sucked in once again by his talent and found myself lost in lust for his potential. But then? Monday morning, as usual, I woke up alone with a broken heart and an empty wallet, wholly unsatisfied after another night of dismissing the Tony Romo I've been introduced to so many times, in order to stubbornly chase the Tony Romo I'm desperate to believe exists.

"We were in position to win the football game, and I made mistakes that cost us," Romo said after Dallas' kick-to-the-crotch, 27-24 opening loss. "That's why we lost. I cost us the football game. That's frustrating. It's disappointing to work very hard to make sure that you're put in those positions to win the game, and it's hard to swallow a game like that. I've got to be better. That's the bottom line."

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on ... Oh, forget it. With Romo, I've lost count.

The Cowboys should be 1-0 heading to San Francisco this week. They played their asses off at the Meadowlands against considerable odds. The inexperienced, injured offensive line held up. The patchwork secondary — down to fourth and fifth cornerbacks Alan Ball and Bryan McCann — kept Dallas in the game. Dez Bryant dominated early before disappearing (no catches over the final 52:17). Felix Jones ran tough between the tackles. Sean Lee arrived at linebacker. Even rookie kicker Dan Bailey made a field goal.

But instead they are 0-1, saddled with the Jersey Sore reality that they coughed up a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead for the first time in 243 games. Instead of starting the season with a signature victory, Jason Garrett now has his fourth loss as head coach, each by a margin of three or fewer points. And instead of leading a team like a 31-year-old captain in his fifth season as a starting quarterback, Romo regressed into Tony Turnover, a dark, daring alter ego who threatens to detour this season and his legacy right into the shitter.

The worst part is, the Cowboys don't need Romo to be perfect. Merely prudent. For years under Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips, Romo delicately balanced his instincts as a fighter pilot and his role as a bus driver. Some days he'd produce a highlight-film fumble recovery and run, like against the St. Louis Rams in 2007. Others he'd force a mind-numbing interception, like against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008. As one of the NFL's best ad-libbing quarterbacks, he struggled with "Scramble!" on this shoulder and "Safe!" on the other. After what happened at Met Life Stadium, a refresher course is apparently in order.

There were moments to make you forget all that last night, including the perfect pass to tight end Jason Witten that went for 64 yards and set up the Cowboys first-and-goal from the Jets' 3. Then he made you remember, as he went rogue, rookie and rotten. Up 24-17 and with nine minutes remaining a touchdown was preferable, but a field goal would've provided a 10-point lead. On third-and-goal there are several acceptable outcomes: completion, incompletion, sack, intentional grounding. There are two unacceptable ones, and Romo found one of them. He went with heart over head and took off on a gutsy, gullible head-first dive toward the goal line when his protection crumbled. He was drilled by Jets lineman Mike DeVito and fumbled. I understand instincts and all, but Mavericks hero Dirk Nowitzki eventually learned he had to take the last shot, double-teamed or not. At some point Rangers ace C.J. Wilson will stop reaching for comebackers with his bare hand, and Josh Hamilton will stop his violent head-first slides. And eventually Romo will learn to slide in that situation.

He'd better, anyway. If Romo is ever going to get where he seems to want to go, he's got to be smarter. You'd think his 62nd NFL start would bring a certain amount of maturity, but so far it hasn't.

Later, with a chance to bail his team out, Romo made yet another reckless decision. With the game tied at 24 and Dallas at its 41 in the last minute, Romo misread the Jets' coverage and forced a throw to Dez Bryant that was easily intercepted by Darrelle Revis. Four plays later, ball game.

"It was a dumb decision, too reactionary," Romo said afterward. "I should've made sure."

Overall, the Cowboys should be disappointed more than discouraged. But if Romo plays like this, they are ultimately doomed. Bad throws happen. Physical mistakes are tolerable. Bad decisions — repeated, chronic bad decisions — are season-killers.

Not sure which season-opener is more painful: The 2010 loss to the Redskins, in which Alex Barron negated an apparent game-winning touchdown catch by Roy Williams with a holding penalty? Or the 2011 season-opening loss, in which the Cowboys blew a 14-point lead in the 4th quarter courtesy of two Romo turnovers, a blocked punt for a touchdown and a 50-yard field goal by a kicker they previously cut?

Either way, "It's called finishing," as owner Jerry Jones put it. And the Cowboys aren't doing it.

I never thought the Cowboys would beat the Jets. But I also never envisioned that they would lose because of their quarterback's sub-par psychology. It's getting easier to defend Romo on the field, and almost impossible to defend him off of it. So that's it. I've been tormented for the last time. Doesn't matter that I got thiiiis close last time. I'm just here to look.

But just in case, anyone have change for a 20? I'm out of ones.


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