Earlier this week, when NFL.com's Bucky Brooks listed Tony Romo as the sixth-most clutch quarterback in the NFL, even Brooks himself had to qualify his choice by noting that the "sight of Romo's name on a list of clutch performers will make some Cowboys fans cringe."
That's because fans of both the Dallas Cowboys and their counterparts have a distorted view of Romo, who for several years running has been one of the game's best quarterbacks in crucial moments.
No other franchise plays on national television as often as the Cowboys, who as a team have struggled for much of the past two decades. As a result, Romo is front and center during their most desperate moments.
When the defense has allowed 30-plus points—something the Cowboys have done more than all but two other teams since 2010—and the running game has gone nowhere, Romo, in front of the entire country on either FOX, NBC or ESPN, is often tasked with having to play superhero in the fourth quarter.
More often than not, he comes through. After all, the dude has 11 fourth-quarter comebacks since 2011, which is pretty phenomenal considering the Cowboys have won only 24 games in that span.
Romo is one of the most efficient fourth-quarter quarterbacks, completing 69.6 percent of his passes and compiling a 105.6 passer rating in the final period last season. Critics, of course, will point out some memorable interceptions with the game on the line, but the fact that he has orchestrated 11 fourth-quarter comebacks in the past three seasons suggests that he routinely comes through for the Cowboys when it matters. Now, I know these truths won't absolve Romo from the harsh criticism of some unrealistic football fans, but this should shed some light on why NFL evaluators hold the quarterback in high regard as a clutch playmaker.
Again, those interceptions are only memorable because the Cowboys are villains and because, more often than not, they're on national television for us all to watch.
Romo's career fourth-quarter passer rating of 101.1 blows all other active quarterbacks away. Since 2011, he's thrown eight interceptions in the fourth quarter of games within seven points. But during the same span and under those same circumstances, golden boy Tom Brady has 10 picks.
During the same span and in the same situation, Philip Rivers has 13 interceptions, while Eli Manning has 11.
And we overlook the fact that Romo is also the league's touchdown leader in one-score games in the fourth quarter, dating back to 2011:
|Most TD passes in one-score games in the 4th Q since 2011|
|1. Tony Romo||20||64.3||99.5|
|2. Tom Brady||16||60.2||90.2|
|3. Eli Manning||15||57.6||89.2|
|4. Matthew Stafford||15||54.6||81.4|
|5. Aaron Rodgers||12||66.3||116.9|
|Pro Football Reference|
Aaron Rodgers has just six career fourth-quarterback comebacks in six seasons. Know why? Because the Packers are always freakin' winning. He doesn't have to stage comebacks and doesn't have to attempt desperate passes in big moments.
Brady hasn't been so lucky lately, and neither has Romo. Since 2010, Rodgers' Packers have given up 21.3 points per game on defense, while Romo's Cowboys have surrendered 25.2. That makes a world of difference.
That's not to say that Romo belongs in the same category as Rodgers or even Brady, but he's had less to work with and has had all of his mistakes magnified by the fact he's the quarterback of "America's Team."
So if you want to continue to call Romo a choker based on those three picks he threw in the second half against Detroit in 2011, or that game-clinching pick-six he threw against the Steelers in 2008, or that costly fourth-quarter interception in the 2011 opener against the Jets, or that killer last-minute pick against the Broncos last season, just know that you're cherry-picking moments to bolster an artificial argument.
Some of those moments have been amplified only because they involved Romo and the Cowboys, while many others wouldn't have even occurred had Romo not fought merely to keep the oft-overmatched Cowboys alive up to those points.
And far too many of the critics who cite the moments above ignorantly fail to give Romo credit for the many clutch plays he has made in order to counterbalance the bad ones.
We look past that fourth-quarter comeback he led over the Redskins last December despite suffering a herniated disc in his back. Too many of us forget about the lights-out fourth quarter he had in a comeback victory over the Eagles in December of 2012 and the near-perfect fourth quarter he had in a tight road victory over the Giants last November.
Cowboys fans are used to winning, and when you aren't winning the quarterback takes the heat. And for everyone who isn't a Cowboys fan and is used to hating on them, Romo is the face of that evil franchise. As a result, it's weird for many of us to think of Romo as someone who is "clutch."
Whether you like it or not, though, the reality is that in big moments, Romo is actually one of the finest quarterbacks in the game.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.