Here we go again.
The Dallas Cowboys have once again put themselves in a precarious position.
Sunday's overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints has transformed next week’s season finale against the Washington Redskins into a winner-take-all affair reminiscent of last season’s Week 17 showdown with the New York Giants.
The contest will determine the NFC East champion and define Tony Romo’s career.
Romo exhibited his typical signs of brilliance for much of the game against the Saints. Down 14 points, he tossed a pair of late fourth-quarter touchdown passes, including a game-tying hookup to Miles Austin with approximately 21 seconds remaining. He extended a game that once looked like a blowout loss into overtime. He went 26-of-43 and finished with 416 yards and four touchdowns.
However, like so often happens, Romo’s numbers rang hollow. He put the Cowboys in a position to win, but could not bring home the victory, turning the ball over on downs after winning the overtime coin toss. Drew Brees would take his side down the field to set up the deciding field goal.
Romo defenders will correctly point out that he did not surrender 34 points or 562 yards of offense.
He stood toe-to-toe with Brees throughout regulation and his two drives at the end of regulation were spectacular. Unfortunately, when Romo absolutely, positively had to make a play, he once again couldn’t.
Sunday’s loss was the latest in which Romo delivered the Cowboys to the brink of greatness but could not fully deliver. Who can forget his infamous fumbled snap against the Seattle Seahawks in 2006 or the fourth-quarter interception in the end zone by the New York Giants’ R.W. McQuarters during the following year’s Division Round loss to the Giants? A pair of three-turnover showings against the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings in consecutive seasons also didn’t help Romo’s postseason reputation.
Romo and the Cowboys had the chance to finish off the Giants at home in Week 14 last season. The Giants were teetering on the precipice of the abyss and needed a victory to have any realistic shot at the playoffs.
Ahead 34-29 with 2:25 remaining, Romo overthrow a wide-open Miles Austin, who had nothing but field turf in front of him, on third down. Eli Manning drove downfield for the game-winning touchdown on the ensuing possession. The Cowboys did miss a potential tying field goal in losing 37-34.
Three weeks later, with the NFC East title and a playoff berth on the line, Romo (29-of-37, 289 yards and two touchdowns) was outgunned by Manning (24-of-33, 346 yards and three touchdowns). Romo had a pick and lost a fumble.
Worst of all, Dallas was a dismal 4-of-12 on third downs and lost 31-14.
Combined, all of Romo’s failures have turned the season finale against a red-hot Redskins outfit into a virtual referendum on his career. He simply cannot drop another critical game without being considered anything but a glorified fantasy football stud.