Even Without Tony Romo, the Crazy Cowboys Can't Be Ruled Out

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 23, 2013

Matthew Emmons/USA Today

The fat lady has sung. The clock has struck midnight. The white flag is being waved.

Pick your cliche. The popular belief now is that the Dallas Cowboys will inevitably fall short of the playoffs by losing a Week 17 elimination game for the third consecutive season.

That's in light of the news that the back injury Tony Romo suffered—and played through—last Sunday in Washington will keep him out of Sunday night's season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles

Say what you will about Romo's anti-heroic reputation, but the reality is that the veteran quarterback does a lot more good than harm for the Cowboys. He completed four of six passes for 93 yards on Dallas' game-winning drive Sunday against the Redskins, and that's the only reason the Cowboys remain alive. 

In fact, moments like that are the only reason Dallas has survived to play a relevant season finale in each of the last three years. During that span, he's now led a league-high 11 fourth-quarter comebacks and 13 game-winning drives. 

This Cowboys team has no business competing for a division title. The injury-ravaged defense, which is utilizing an ancient scheme installed by a prehistoric coordinator, is giving up yards at a near-unprecedented pace. They lack discipline. They lack balance. They lack karma. I mean, that much is evident now. 

And now they'll be lacking their best player against the Eagles, turning instead to Kyle Orton. 

The same Kyle Orton who was chased out of Chicago after averaging just 6.4 yards per pass attempt and posting a JaMarcus Russell-caliber passer rating of 79.6 in 2008. 

The same Kyle Orton who lost his starting job to Tim Tebow in Denver in 2011. 

You know, Kyle Orton. The dude who was injured on his first pass attempt as a Kansas City Chief and was cast aside in favor of, um, Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn.

On one hand, this might finally cause the world's most fervent Romo bashers to start appreciating the quarterback. On the other hand, there's that other cliche about any given Sunday.

When Orton drops back to pass for the first time Sunday night on national television in the biggest game of the 2013 regular season, he'll be doing so for only the 16th time in two years. And even if you don't believe in quarterback win-loss records—you shouldn't, but we'll humor ourselves—it should at least be noted that the 31-year-old has won 35 career regular-season games. 

That's one more than he's lost.

Jason Witten, though, has full faith in Orton, per The Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota:

This is a guy who has been practicing with a fairly deep pool of offensive weapons for two years, waiting for an opportunity like this. He wasn't signed off the street last week. He knows Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams and Witten. He knows this offense. 

Kyle Orton, 2008-2010
Pro Football Reference

All I'm saying is there's more than a Lloyd Christmas-caliber chance

The good news—and this is admittedly a stretch—is that there was at least a 50/50 chance the Cowboys were going to lose this game anyway. The Eagles are the hotter and healthier team and flat-out better. The Cowboys have continually fallen victim to pressure over the years, but now there's no pressure at all. 

Now, for really the first time in years, the Cowboys have nothing to lose. Nobody expects them to beat the Eagles without Romo, and nobody will blame them for falling short considering the amount of key players missing from the lineup. 

Nobody expects Orton to succeed, which could take the edge off. Hell, maybe it'll even force head coach Jason Garrett and play-caller Bill Callahan to focus more on DeMarco Murray, who is the only back in the NFL averaging more than 5.1 yards per carry on at least 150 attempts.

The Cowboys will have a taller hill to climb, but you'd still be crazy to write this team off. They're just too damn unpredictable, too damn circus-like. 

Do they need Romo to win the Super Bowl? Definitely. Can they win one home game with Orton? Absolutely. In fact, doing so would be the most Cowboys-like development in the football world.