East Rutherford, N.J.—Tony Romo can't silence critics overnight. He can't chase away the doubters or repair a reputation that was unfairly handed to him in the first place in 60 minutes of regular-season football.
But Romo took a Texas-sized step in that direction with his second-half performance in a 24-17 Dallas Cowboys' victory over the New York Giants Wednesday night at MetLife Stadium.
That was the key. Romo already has elite numbers. Statistically speaking, he was one of the five best quarterbacks in football in 2011—better than Super Bowl MVP and arch rival Eli Manning.
Romo had to prove, in another team's stadium, in front of a national, prime-time audience (factors like those matter to Jerry Jones), against a primary rival, that he could overcome those and any other obstacles to help his team earn a victory.
Wednesday night, Romo did that.
Coming into this game, the world's highest-rated active fourth-quarter pivot was not Manning or Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees or Tom Brady. It was Romo. But those were just statistics, which very rarely tell the entire story.
Here's the rest of it.
Romo threw two "Bad Tony" passes in the first half. One was intercepted; another was dropped. But he didn't react the way the haters predicted/adorers feared he would. Following that interception, Romo completed 18 of his final 22 passes, three of which went for touchdowns as the Cowboys overcame.
They overcame the virtual absence of Romo's most important receiving option, Jason Witten, who was neutered by a lacerated spleen and probably had little business being on the field.
They overcame 13 penalties resulting in 86 yards lost. The Giants were penalized only four times.
"I was so impressed," Jones said from the locker room after the game, "and particularly impressed with how he overcame his own team's mistakes."
That was significant. But even more importantly, they overcame the atmosphere. They went into hostile territory and became the first team this century to slay a defending Super Bowl champion in their home opener.
Romo is rarely credited with being mentally tough. He shies away from big moments, they say. And sure, he wasn't challenged by a particularly strong secondary Wednesday, but the Giants' pass rush is capable of compensating for deficiencies in the defensive backfield.
The pressure was there, as the Giants' defensive front dominated Dallas' line for much of the evening, but Romo was Manning-cool in the pocket, sliding away from heat and exploiting what was there for him to exploit.
It looked like things were going downhill with that second-quarter interception, but the defense stepped up with a goal-line stand on the ensuing New York possession and Romo didn't flinch going forward.
"He had every opportunity to get frustrated but did not, and kept trying to make the plays," Jones said. "And we all hear that's what makes a great quarterback."
A great quarterback he is, but none of it would have been possible without that goal-line stand from a defense that played lights out. Same applies in regard to DeMarco Murray's ability to turn a 3-yard loss into 48-yard gain in the third quarter, as well as Miles Austin's incredible re-adjustment in traffic to turn a 1st-and-30 into a 34-yard touchdown in the fourth.
I've been saying all summer that it takes more than a quarterback to win big in this league. The Cowboys probably already knew they had the quarterback, but they got more proof Wednesday night.
And it looks like they have a lot more than that, too.