Cowboys fans have been looking for the missing link at quarterback since Troy Aikman retired in 2000. A quarterback who can win big games, one who will lead the team to Super Bowl wins, and one who shines in December.
So far, Tony Romo has not met these requirements.
Despite having amazing stats during his first three seasons and breaking multiple Troy Aikman records within a matter of games, Cowboys fans and critics still look at Romo as the ultimate choke artist. Romo has let them down multiple times in the last three seasons.
In 2006, after leading the Cowboys to a 10-4 record, the Cowboys lost their last two games, including one to the lowly Detroit Lions, to allow the Eagles, who won their last two games, capture the division title. Then came the infamous "bobble" the next week at Seattle led to people wondering if his 95.1 rating was just a fluke.
In 2007, Romo appeared to have silenced all these doubts, throwing for 4,211 yards and 36 touchdowns and posting a rating of 97.4, leading the Cowboys to their first division title since 1998 and a 13-3 record. The Cowboys appeared to have a clear road to the Super Bowl.
However, in a shocking turn of events, the Cowboys fell behind late in the divisional round playoffs, and Romo failed again in the clutch, throwing an interception in the end zone with 16 seconds left. This set up an unlikely Super Bowl win for the Giants, and left Romo's critics questioning him once again.
In 2008, the Cowboys were picked as Super Bowl favorites. However, after Romo broke his finger in Week 6 against the Cardinals, the Cowboys lost two out of their next three games to slide to 5-4. After Romo came back, the Cowboys won three straight and appeared to control the first wild card spot. Another controversial moment came the next week though.
Leading the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers 13-3 with less than 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Cowboys let the Steelers back into the game.The score stood tied with less than two minutes left. There was still time for one more possession as Romo took the field. As he dropped back to pass, he immediately threw to Jason Witten, who was well-covered by Deshea Townshend. The resulting interception was returned for the game-winning touchdown.
Although the Cowboys won the next week against the Giants, they lost the next week and needed a win over the Eagles the next week to clinch a playoff berth. If Romo could pull out a win, maybe things would be ok.
What followed was one of the worst losses in Cowboys history. The Eagles embarrassed Dallas 44-6, in what was practically a playoff game. Romo posted a miserable rating of 55.8, and that only encouraged more people to question his ability during the months of December and January.
Although Romo still threw for 3,448 and 26 TDs in only 13 games and posted a rating of 91.4, along with an 8-5 record as a starter, it was the 1-3 record in December that people cared about. And without star receiver Terrell Owens for the upcoming season, things look even worse.
One of the things that has been "blamed" for Romo's failures in big games is when his girlfriends show up at the stadium to watch games. In 2006, Carrie Underwood appeared for the Christmas Eve game against Philadelphia that would have clinched the division title for the Cowboys. They lost, allowing the Eagles back into the division title race, and a loss at the Lions sealed the Cowboys fate the next week.
In 2007, Jessica Simpson appeared at a game, also against the Eagles, that would have allowed the Cowboys to clinch homefield advantage. They lost in a 10-6 defensive struggle, and Romo had the worst game of the season, throwing 3 interceptions and ending his run of 20 games with a touchdown pass. Although the Cowboys still clinched homefield advantage at a later date, they still struggled into December and January, and it showed in the playoffs.
Romo is officially done with Jessica Simpson now, which means there are no more excuses for Romo's poor play during December.
People have tried to come up with excuses, such as "lack of good receivers" or "good play during September-November" or "influence of his girlfrends/personal life." Well, all excuses are officially invalid now. Tony Romo's performance is influenced by his play, and nothing else.
Romo has proven before that he can silence his critics, even if only for a short period of time. Now he must do so without Terrell Owens. The stakes have never been this high, considering that Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett will be fired at the end of the season if the Cowboys don't reach the playoffs.
Tony Romo has nothing to do now except prove that he can consistently make plays and keep the Cowboys in good position for a playoff run. If he fails, his great stats and performance during September-November might not matter anymore to the Cowboys, and he might have to go eventually if he cannot reestablish his reputation as something other than a choke artist.
It's hard to consistently please millions of fans who only want playoff wins and Super Bowl victories. Romo will have to do so this year. If he fails, there is no reason other than his poor performance in December.