Dallas Cowboys Foolishly Gambling Fate of Season on Banged-Up Tony Romo

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterOctober 28, 2014

Matthew Emmons/USA Today

The Dallas Cowboys are 6-2.

They're in first place in the NFC East.

Yes, they suffered a shocking 20-17 loss to the 10.5-point underdogs Washington, per Odds Shark. Yes, this was an embarrassing Monday Night Football loss to a historic divisional rival. No, it isn't the end of the world—and trying to pull out the win wasn't worth rolling the dice on their best season since 2007.

Quarterback Tony Romo, on pace for the best statistical year of his career, had been knocked out of the game by unblocked blitzer Keenan Robinson. After Robinson's knee slammed into Romo's surgically repaired back, Romo spent a very long time laid out on the AT&T Stadium turf:

"It felt like some kind of knee or elbow hit me perfectly," Romo told reporters during his postgame press conference, as broadcast on ESPN. "Even if I hadn't had back surgery, I'd still probably have felt it pretty good."

When questioned if he'd taken a painkiller shot to get him back on the field, Romo admitted he had.

"Yeah, I ended up taking a shot in the back," he said. "Just [did] what [I] could to get back out there." With less than two minutes left in regulation, and the game tied at 17, Romo got back out there.

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It didn't help.

On Romo's first dropback, safety Brandon Meriweather came through on a blitz and strip-sacked him. Against all appearances, the Cowboys managed to retain the ball—and keep their hopes alive:

Those hopes didn't last long. After a few nice passes by Romo, a bungled clock-management situation and subsequent intentional grounding penalty ended their final drive of regulation. In overtime, the Cowboys defense held Washington to a field goal; all Romo and the Cowboys' sixth-best scoring offense needed to do was get points.

They couldn't.

In fact, they went four-and-out. Was it worth it?

Was it worth risking the season Jones and Cowboys fans have waited seven years for on two failed drives? Was it worth throwing away what will surely be head coach Jason Garrett's first winning campaign in his fourth full year in Dallas?

The assembled media tried to get a straight answer out of Garrett:

There's a reason the old "any given Sunday" saying became a saying: Sometimes, crazy games happen in the NFL. Sometimes, underdogs play way above their skills. Sometimes, it just isn't your day. Monday was clearly one of those days in Dallas.

Washington defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was bringing all-out blitzes on nearly every snap, generating tremendous pressure and sacking Cowboys quarterbacks five times for minus-54 yards.

Romo completed 60.7 percent of his passes, down from his prior season average of 69.2 percent, per Pro-Football-Reference. He averaged 7.5 yards per attempt, nearly a yard less than his season mark of 8.4. He threw just one touchdown pass and was lucky not to get picked off on a couple of plays.

"I don't know that it affected [me] a ton," Romo said of the injury. "I think, more or less, their defense on the last series or two affected it more than anything else."

That very defense should have been on Garrett's mind as Romo came back out of the tunnel.

It goes against every primal, dominance-establishing He-Man instinct football coaches are wired with, but sometimes discretion really is the better part of valor. With Brandon Weeden playing well and red-hot tailback DeMarco Murray on fire even without Romo, bringing the starting QB back and putting the game in his hands didn't even make tactical sense.

So why would Garrett put Romo back out there to keep getting his stuffing knocked out?

Maybe Garrett wasn't the one who made the call.

ESPN's broadcast team showed owner/general manager Jerry Jones outside the locker room with Romo and the training staff, as Romo limped around and tried to shake off the injury prior to coming back onto the field. We'll probably never know exactly what was said, or by whom, but it was hard to forget the impression that Jones was doing everything he could to ensure Romo got out there—no matter what.

Full credit has to be given to Romo for sucking it up and playing. It takes tremendous courage and will to go back out there and do his job thinking another hit to his back could do serious, irreversible damage.

But there are a lot of other people who didn't do their jobs.

Tim Sharp/Associated Press

Weeden's job is to play when called upon. He did well with the snaps he was given, but he wasn't given the opportunity to see the game out. If you don't trust your backup enough to keep him in when the starter is shuffling around like a septuagenarian at the gym, why is he even on the roster?

When the training and medical staff members are either unwilling or unable to pull Romo out of the very brief remainder of the game, why are they there? It's hard to believe Romo had their blessing to keep taking hard hits to his surgically repaired, apparently re-injured, back.

If Garrett can't step back, see the larger picture and stand up to Jones—knowing that his team must make, and do well in, the playoffs—Garrett's not doing his job, either.

For that matter, why is Jones, the owner-slash-general manager, involved in this at all?

Jones hired coaches and staff, and he needs to let them do their jobs. They can't do that when he's looming over their shoulder, armchair-quarterbacking every decision.

Nobody on the Cowboys roster or staff wanted to lose that game, but someone needed to care more about Romo's health, and the rest of the Cowboys' season, than trying to win that game.

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