Following his team's narrow victory over the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was holding another of his classic impromptu media sessions in the team locker room. One reporter asked about his confidence in oft-maligned quarterback Tony Romo in big moments.
"You said this week, Jerry, that when it comes down to Romo you like your chances..."
But at that moment, the reporter was briefly interrupted by a guy in the background.
"Damn right," he yelled.
The interrupter was Romo.
It was playful bravado, something the Cowboys avoided in the lead-up to what the division-rival Giants were treating as a heavyweight bout. It came right when Jones, Romo, head coach Jason Garrett and the rest of the team could finally breathe.
While the Giants talked a week's worth of trash, the Cowboys were quietly confident coming off their bye. Sunday's victory wasn't sexy by any means, but Romo and the offense were able to execute well enough on the game's final drive in order to earn the three-point victory.
The Cowboys had blown a 15-point second-half lead, but Romo and Co. broke the tie with a five-minute, 13-play drive to set up Dan Bailey's walk-off field goal from 35 yards out. Romo completed seven of nine passes on said drive, although the records will state otherwise because the officials botched an incomplete call on a late throw to Dez Bryant.
This was yet another moment which will be forgotten by those who inexplicably accuse a man with the highest fourth-quarter passer rating in NFL history of being a choker.
It was arguably a season-saving drive.
"That's not a stretch," said Jones. "I'm going to let you say that, but seriously, that's not a stretch when you look at our season, when you look at what we've got ahead of us."
Up until that point, Romo and the offense had put together an uninspiring performance. Fourteen points, with help from a Jeff Heath touchdown on defense. The quarterback was just 17-of-29 and his receivers weren't exactly helping him out.
Bryant was the guilty party on Romo's sole interception, and he also had a fumble that set the offense back about a quarter of the field in the final quarter. Throw in the embarrassing non-tackling that took place on Brandon Myers' touchdown and this could have been yet another tragic, befuddling loss for America's Team.
But then everything changed in the 11th hour.
Prior to that drive, the Cowboys had converted just one third down on their last 20 attempts, dating all the way back to Week 9. But then they went 3-of-3 in those situations with the game—and the season—on the line.
|Cowboys on third down|
|Final drive vs. Giants||Previous 20 attempts|
|Since Week 9||3-3||1-20|
|Pro Football Reference|
Two of those conversions went to Bryant. On that final drive, Romo passed to Bryant four times total. One of those catches didn't count, but the other three were game-altering. Considering that the team's most dangerous offensive weapon had been targeted only 19 times the previous three weeks, that indicates this offense is evolving.
"That's really when you separate yourself as a quarterback, as an offensive football team, as a team in general," Garrett said. "When you go down and you're able to make those drives in crucial moments."
It also indicates Romo never lost confidence in the shaky but talented Bryant.
"He actually told me that," said Bryant after the game. "Tony believed in me...he kept coming back to me."
Ultimately, Bryant was targeted 16 times Sunday, which is his second-highest total of the year. He got some extra snaps from the slot too, which is another sign the Cowboys are mixing it up in an attempt to get him going again.
Seeing that Romo-Bryant battery in a groove might have been the most promising takeaway from Sunday's victory.
"When you're a quarterback and you get a positive result going in a certain direction, you tend to migrate to that option over and over and over again," Garrett said. "A lot of good things happen when you throw the ball to Dez Bryant. We wanted to do that, we moved him around a little bit today."
Bryant wouldn't stop kicking himself for his mistakes, but that final drive made everything a hell of a lot more tolerable. The 25-year-old even poked fun at himself while praising Romo's leadership ability.
"Tony is a great leader," Bryant said. "He's one of the most humble guys I've met my entire life, besides myself."
Bryant noted that prior to that final series, Romo told the offense that "we're going to go out there, win this game, and we're going to go home."
He also said that Romo chastised him after the fumble.
"He chewed me out," said Bryant. "That's what he's supposed to do. That helped me get my mind back right."
Those are the kinds of things leaders do, and it's another reason why you can't count the 'Boys out regardless of how many blows they take.
"You can't get much more out of a win," said Jones, "than we're going to get out of this one."
One game, one drive in which Bryant said Romo "turned it up another notch." That may or may not be enough to absolve Romo of his previous football sins, regardless of how unfairly he's been judged. But by commanding the offense and taking the reins both on and off the field when it mattered most Sunday, he at least kept the critics quiet.
More importantly, his Cowboys delivered a possible knockout blow to the chirpy Giants, who fall to 4-7 after a four-game hot streak allowed them to creep back into contention in the sloppy, wide-open NFC East.
The 6-5 Cowboys are now 4-0 within that division, which gives them at least a temporary edge over the 6-5 Philadelphia Eagles.
It was only one drive in one game, but in this league, that's sometimes all it takes to turn everything around.
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