When Tony Romo walked off the field following the Cowboys' 31-14 loss to the New York Giants in the 2011 regular-season finale, it was the fifth straight time Romo fell short against Eli Manning and the Giants, and yet another season in which Romo's club would fall short of the postseason expectations placed upon "America's Team."
Romo has been one of the most scrutinized quarterbacks in recent memory, with undeniable talent as an NFL signal-caller (97.3 career QB rating, 21,141 passing yards, 152 TDs), but an inability to translate that skill into playoff success in Dallas.
After the infamous botched hold on a potential game-winning field goal attempt in the Cowboys' 21-20 loss to Seattle in the 2006 NFC Wild Card Round, and subsequent playoff losses in 2007 and 2009, many have wondered whether Romo was simply destined to be a great quarterback who could never win the big one.
But 2012 could be different.
In one of the best single-game performances of his career, Romo completed 22-of-29 passes for 307 yards, three touchdown passes, one interception and a 129.5 QB rating against his nemesis, Eli Manning and the Giants. After five straight losses and what was becoming a metaphor for his entire career in his inability to defeat New York, Romo had silenced his naysayers with three casual lobs.
Which team is more likely to reach the Super Bowl for the NFC?
Perhaps his most clutch completion of the game wasn't a touchdown pass, but rather a 13-yard throw to Kevin Ogletree for a first down that sealed the game with two minutes to play. The play before resulted in a holding penalty against Dallas, pushing them back from 3rd-and-2 to 3rd-and-12.
And with that, Tony Romo had not only broken his team's losing streak against the division rival Giants, but also won his first opening game of a season since 2009. He took the underdog Cowboys into MetLife Stadium to face the defending Super Bowl champions, and came out 1-0. A comparatively soft schedule ahead.
Over the next three weeks, the Cowboys will face Seattle (7-9 last season), Tampa Bay (4-12 last season), and Chicago (8-8). Two of those three games will be played at home, with the road game coming against the Seahawks.
By Week 6, Dallas could very well be 4-0 as they go into a showdown with the Ravens (12-4) in Baltimore. Following what should be their first real challenge of the season other than the Giants, who they've already defeated, the Cowboys play at Carolina (6-10), home against the Giants, at Atlanta (10-6), at Philadelphia (8-8), home against Cleveland (4-12), home against Washington (5-11) and at Cincinnati (9-7).
By this stage in the season, it isn't unreasonable to think that the Cowboys can go into Week 15 with a 10-2 or 9-3 record.
Then over the following two weeks, Dallas will face their toughest stretch of the season, with consecutive games against the Steelers and Saints. But the advantage the Cowboys have in these contests is that they'll both be played at home.
Romo and the 'Boys will finish the regular season at Washington (5-11). Not only can Dallas eye a playoff spot this season, but they can anticipate a high seed, securing themselves at least one home playoff game.
And if Tony Romo looks anything in the playoffs like he did in Wednesday night's opener, this may finally be his breakthrough year; the year in which the Cowboys finally fulfill their team's promise and reach the Super Bowl.
Follow Manny Randhawa on Twitter: @MannyRand9