Dallas Cowboys: Why Choker Stigma Is No Longer True for Tony Romo

Peter MatarazzoContributor IDecember 7, 2013

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 28:  Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders at AT&T Stadium on November 28, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Tony Romo is a top-flight quarterback in the NFL. There is no disputing his value to the Dallas Cowboys, and there is no disputing his abilities as a player. From an undrafted rookie out of Eastern Illinois, to his time watching from the sidelines under Bill Parcells, to taking the reins from Drew Bledsoe, his ride in Dallas has been eventful.

Romo's critics are convinced that he's a choker on the biggest of stages and that he fails in big spots. If you scrutinize the 2013-14 season thus far, there was his game-losing and game-changing interception in the 51-48 loss to the Denver Broncos. Right now, an extra win means everything in a very tight NFC East race, but in that contest, Romo may have actually played his best game as a Cowboy. 

If we look further into this season, he also led the Cowboys to fourth-quarter wins against the Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants and Oakland Raiders.

In the eyes of many, he is nothing more than a choke artist, but in reality, he is actually a pretty great quarterback to have in a big game. I know the debate that follows Romo is an argument filled with plenty of opinions, frustrations and anger, but it deserves exposure to the truth. 

So, where did all this begin? What was Romo's defining baptismal moment into the world of choke artist? One can argue that it came in his very first performance against the Giants when he replaced Bledsoe, but is that fair?
There is no disputing Romo's share of the blame that's contributed to his stigma. He's put together a collection of lowlight-reel material that started with the botched field goal hold in Seattle. It was ugly, and it was a defining moment for this franchise.
There are other examples, like the Week 17 finale last season against the Washington Redskins on the Cowboys' final possession. The Detroit Lions game back in 2011 was an interception-fest that even resulted in Bobby Carpenter having a monumental play that affected the outcome of the game.
There are plenty of other picks and mistakes, but it seems Romo's miscues often come as a result of his team's dependency on him to make plays. His targets over the last several years have become as predictable as Jason Garrett's offense. He's been playing with a running game ranked near the bottom of the league and an offensive line that's been neglected for years by general manager Jerry Jones.
To properly assess Romo for his reputation as a choker, a certain degree of research has to be done. And when you add it up, the label is simply inaccurate.
Romo has thrown 19 fourth-quarter interceptions since the beginning of 2007. But two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks have thrown more than that—Eli Manning and Drew Brees have each thrown over 30 apiece. That's simply interceptions alone and not when trailing or the game is tied.
While it is still not a great number, one could argue that as long as Romo was winning playoff games, he or she could live with that statistic. However, despite the fact Romo has not been successful in the postseason, his stigma as a late-game choker is simply not the case at all. It's a perception, a label and a media onslaught that has simply followed him for years.
The statistics don't lie, and the bottom line is that since 2006, nobody has a higher passer rating in the fourth quarter than Tony Romo according to NFL.com. He also has an impressive resume of 19 fourth-quarter comebacks and 22 game-winning drives according to pro-footballreference.com. The statistical data is there to support Romo's ability and dispels his reputation.
There will continue to be heavy debate regarding this matter, but I think Romo's biggest problem is his visibility on the most visible franchise in all of sports. Many of his biggest failures have come on the biggest stages of prime-time television for all to watch.
One aspect of this debate is that although he has great statistics to back up and quash this stigma as a choker, the results aren't there. But that has more to do with the franchise as a whole and not just one player.
Tony Romo is an excellent football player. His reputation as a big-time choker simply is not true. Statistically, it is proven. And, at the end of the day, football is a team game and not dependent on one player. So it's simply unfair to place all the blame and put that type of a label on him for the flaws of this franchise.
The ultimate way for Romo to shut down this reputation once and for all would be to lead this team to a championship. If that were to happen, it would quiet his critics once and for all.