It's no longer about statistics for Tony Romo.
On paper and during the regular season, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback has proven that he's one of the best pivots in the National Football League. And while fantasy football championships are nice, quarterbacks in this league—and especially quarterbacks in places like Dallas—can't win over fans until they help deliver playoff victories and/or championships.
That might not be totally fair, because teams—not players, not even quarterbacks—win playoff games and Super Bowls. But there's an unwritten rule out there that a quarterback isn't truly an elite star until he delivers in January.
That's why I won't set many statistical targets for a successful Romo season. Instead, I'll give you three slightly less tangible things Tony Romo must do to not only be successful, but to also silence his buzzing critics in 2012.
1. Win at least two playoff games
How deep into the playoffs does Tony Romo have to go to silence critics?
This is really the key. Romo won't retire a success in Dallas unless he wins a Super Bowl, but he's only 32, and this team should only get better, so it's not imperative that he wins a Lombardi Trophy immediately. What he has to do for now is give Dallas its first two-win playoff appearance since 1995.
Romo won one playoff game in 2009, but that combined with a 4,483-yard regular season wasn't enough for him to evade the attacks from critics. A playoff appearance is required; one playoff victory would help, but only two postseason victories in as many weeks would change perceptions.
2. Start at least 13 games
It's funny. Romo probably can't curb negative judgements without that first benchmark, and yet if he accomplishes that feat, almost nothing else he does during the regular season will matter.
That said, it would certainly help if he could make it through most of the year healthy. He's missed 13 games the last four seasons, which has some calling him injury-prone. Of course, that's absurd, because 10 of those missed games came after a freak injury to his clavicle, but not all of Romo's critics apply sound logic to their assessments.
3. Throw fewer than five second-half interceptions
In 2011, Romo was good in the fourth quarter. He was good in close games. He was good while trailing and good while leading. The only situation in which his passer rating dipped below 100 was when the Cowboys led by more than one score.
Yes, the numbers indicate that Romo is one of the league's best quarterbacks in the fourth quarter of close games, but he has a reputation as a player who isn't good in such situations.
The Cowboys lost five one-score games in 2011. Some of that was on Jason Garrett (think: icing his own kicker in Week 13 against Arizona and terrible play-calling down the stretch in Week 14 against the Giants and Week 4 against the Lions), but Romo certainly could have been better in tough, close losses to the Jets and Patriots. And while he shouldn't have had to throw so much in the second half of a collapse against Detroit, Romo still threw three second-half interceptions.
To take the next step, he'll have to limit those mental mistakes.
Again, if Romo can win, almost nothing else will matter. As simple as it is, that's really the key for him in 2012. He's done everything except that.
Of course, nothing else really matters anyway.