When the Cowboys didn't have Romo Week 9 against the Arizona Cardinals, they had by far their worst offensive showing of the season, with just 17 points and 266 total yards in a losing effort. When they got him back in Week 10, they scored 31 and fell just a yard shy of 400, despite the fact that the 34-year-old quarterback was playing with two fractures in his back.
In terms of passer rating, yards per attempt and completion percentage, Romo ranks second among current starting quarterbacks. And according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he has a higher completion percentage while under pressure than Rodgers, Manning and Brady.
I mention those guys because they have to be considered the league's top MVP candidates right now. All of their teams are in first place, and all of their numbers are off the charts.
This is the year of the quarterback—the league-wide passer rating and completion percentage are at all-time highs, and the league-wide interception rate is at an all-time low—and pivots have won six of the last seven MVP awards.
So while talk about DeMarco Murray is nice, the Cowboys running back doesn't likely stand a chance unless he breaks the single-season rushing yards record. Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt is also an interesting candidate, but a defensive player hasn't won the award since 1986.
Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers deserves some attention, as does Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers, but their teams aren't doing as well and they've had some really ugly performances. Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts has the raw numbers to compete, but he's struggled the last few weeks and has been outdueled by both Roethlisberger and Brady.
That's why the MVP race is likely to involve three, maybe four horses. That depends if you're willing to throw Romo into a group that includes three inevitable Hall of Famers. It might not feel right, especially if you've been guilty of buying into the false narrative casting Romo as a choker, but considering the figures from above and the circumstances surrounding said figures, it would be unfair to exclude him from the MVP conversation.
Here's how Romo stacks up to those three, as well as Roethlisberger for good measure:
|Comparing MVP candidates at QB (rank among the five)|
|Completion %||68.8 (1)||64.0 (5)||67.1 (3)||66.8 (4)||68.3 (2)|
|Touchdowns||18 (5)||24 (3)||30 (1)||28 (2)||24 (4)|
|Interceptions||6 (4)||5 (2)||9 (5)||3 (1)||6 (3)|
|Yards/attempt||8.3 (2)||7.3 (5)||8.1 (3)||8.8 (1)||7.9 (4)|
|Passer rating||107.2 (2)||102.0 (5)||107.1 (3)||120.1 (1)||105.3 (5)|
|QBR||78.9 (3)||75.9 (4)||80.0 (2)||85.9 (1)||71.7 (5)|
|Deep accuracy %||44.4 (3)||35.7 (5)||48.8 (2)||56.7 (1)||43.9 (4)|
|Pressured acc. %||63.0 (2)||61.3 (3)||59.7 (4)||54.4 (5)||77.3 (1)|
|Pro Football Reference/Focus|
It’s hard to deny the fact that Rodgers is on the verge of running away with this thing. He’s the hottest of the five quarterbacks, and that touchdown-to-interception ratio is untouchable. But you can’t call this thing six weeks early, and Romo technically comes in second in cumulative rankings based on that breakdown. His touchdown total is hurting him, but he's in the mix in every other area.
He's right there on third downs..
|Passing on third down|
|1. Aaron Rodgers||61.0||9.5||126.7|
|2. Tony Romo||69.5||9.0||121.1|
|3. Peyton Manning||64.4||7.7||119.8|
|4. Ben Roethlisberger||67.7||8.9||111.6|
|5. Tom Brady||61.1||7.8||97.0|
|Pro Football Reference|
And in the second half of one-score games...
|Passing in the second half of one-score games|
|1. Tony Romo||72.7||9.7||122.0|
|2. Tom Brady||64.7||9.4||115.0|
|3. Ben Roethlisberger||66.2||7.7||104.8|
|4. Peyton Manning||65.2||8.3||103.7|
|5. Aaron Rodgers||60.7||7.6||99.2|
|Pro Football Reference|
He's also got two fourth-quarter comebacks and has orchestrated two game-winning drives. None of the other candidates have trumped those totals.
You could certainly argue that some or all of those other guys have done more (or at least as much) with less.
Aside from maybe New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, nobody else we've looked at has a potential MVP teammate on offense. Romo has that in Murray, who leads the league in rushing by a margin of almost 300 yards.
He's also got one of the best receivers in the game (Dez Bryant), one of the best tight ends in the game (Jason Witten) and a jacked-up offensive line (earlier this year, left tackle Tyron Smith became the first offensive lineman in a decade to win the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award).
But there's still plenty of time for Romo to build his case. What's clear right now is that he definitely deserves to be a candidate.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFC East for Bleacher Report since 2012.