What we know about Tony Romo, and what a lot of fans think they know about him, are two different things.
Fans were rightfully upset after the fourth quarter meltdown against the New York Jets. With the Cowboys up seven points, Romo fumbled at the goal line, preventing the Cowboys from taking a two-score lead. After the Jets tied the game on a blocked punt, Romo had an absolutely horrible pass to Darrelle Revis for an interception, leading to the game-winning field goal.
The stupid mistakes revived all the things we've heard before about Romo: he'll never win the big one, he's not clutch, he's just like his "idol" Brett Favre -- he'll make spectacular plays and follow them up with dumb ones.
That fourth quarter reinforced what some fans think they know about Romo: mainly, that he'll never win the big one. People like simple answers, and people like to be right. So when someone shouts, Tony Romo will never win a Super Bowl! ... they are saying something that they can't possibly know for sure, and they're now in a position to fiercely defend that declarative statement.
Here's what I know about Tony Romo: He has talent. He works hard. He is always looking to improve. By any measure, he's among the top third of quarterbacks in the NFL.
Is he clutch? It's easy to say no after Sunday's game, but ESPN-Dallas writer Todd Archer wrote a good article about that back in June.
Can he change? That was another big question following the Jets game. I think there's evidence that he already has changed, and Sunday's game was simply a temporary regression.
Going into the 2009 season, Romo's big problem was turnovers. In 2008, he had 14 interceptions and lost seven fumbles, and he missed three games that year due to injury (21 turnovers in 13 games). In training camp of 2009, and early in the season, the big theme with Romo was to protect the football, to cut down on the turnovers. And he did: in 16 games, he had nine interceptions and 4 fumbles (13 turnovers in 16 games). I wrote about it a few times that season, and the quotation I kept going back to came from Romo after the third regular season game of the '09 season:
"You know if you think about it, I feel pretty strongly -- in 6 games, that's four no-turnover games, and I think that's hard to do at this position, but that's something that excites me when I think about. It's there, and it's very possible to do it, you just have to always have that thought process in your brain, the ball is important. It really matters a lot. And that's part of the thing and as you grow and get older you gain an understanding. Sometimes you have to go through the growing pains to get there. There are plenty of quarterbacks I've talked to have told me the same thing. But you have to work at it - you really do, and I think that's been our goal and it's exciting to see improvement as a player."
He has it in him to protect the ball -- the 2009 season is evidence of that. In that context, maybe the Jets meltdown will be a good thing in the future, as a harsh reminder for Romo to always be vigilant when protecting the football.