Commentary

Revolution shows evolution of Romo

Latest milestone for Cowboys' quarterback: Winning without a touchdown pass.

Updated: December 23, 2009, 12:31 PM ET
By Ed Werder | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- While he will never win enough games, Tony Romo has already won a lot of them as the Dallas Cowboys' starter, although none was like Monday night's victory.

In the evolution of a young quarterback, Romo achieved a potential milestone, one that went mostly unnoticed and remains little-known. In his two-plus full seasons as their starter, the Cowboys had never won a game in which Romo failed to throw a touchdown pass until they achieved precisely that against the Carolina Panthers.

What is important about that development is that it should reinforce the point Romo's coaches have been making -- that Romo should emulate Brett Favre only when channeling the current purple-clad version and not the Favre he remembers from his Wisconsin youth. With the Cowboys' personnel, it is not always necessary for the quarterback's performance to determine the team's success. Let the defense play, allow the most formidable running game in football to dominate. Romo heard the same advice from the offensive coaches before games against defensive heavyweights Pittsburgh and Baltimore last season -- both awful defeats in which Romo was intercepted on the first offensive series.

"It's been a point of emphasis for him and by us for a long time," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "But one thing that happens to you as a player is you go out and play, and you react a certain way. The other night, Tony did a good job of managing down plays. When it wasn't there, he took a sack, went somewhere else or threw the ball away. He kept us in good down and distance situations. When we had a penalty or a negative play, we punted and our defense played well."

At least for the moment, Romo seems to be embracing the challenge of playing against his instincts. With this week's playbook under his arm, Romo was walking from the locker room to the coaching offices for his quarterbacks meeting when I asked what most impressed him when he reviewed tape of his relatively unspectacular performance against Carolina. "That we won," Romo replied. "The objective is go out there and win and move chains."

Put that in 3-inch headlines, as Jimmy Johnson might say.

A shortened week of preparation, the defensive style of the opponent and the Dallas injury report will test Romo's willingness to play with patience. The undefeated Denver Broncos have allowed a league-low 16 points, although the accomplishment is diminished somewhat based on the lack of quality opponents.

First-year head coach Josh McDaniels is a Bill Belichick disciple who learned the importance of making the opponent win a different way. So the Cowboys will likely find the Broncos emphasizing coverage on tight end Jason Witten, who could be held without a reception this week and still rank higher among the league leaders than the player who is 150th -- Buffalo's Terrell Owens.

The predicted absence yet again of running back Felix Jones -- who in terms of durability is beginning to make Reggie Bush look like Bronko Nagurski -- eliminates much of the speed from the Dallas offense.

Jones has provided the Cowboys with three 20-yard runs, more than any other NFL player except Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson even though both have at least 34 more carries. There will not be as many big plays for the Cowboys' offense even if Marion Barber returns.

But Garrett insisted that Romo's role should not change and the playcaller will be imploring his quarterback not to let any injury-related absences influence his decision-making.

"Tony is always in the same position," Garrett said before meeting with his quarterback. "When he has a chance to make a big play, he will and when it's not there, he will move along. He's done a great job of that since he's been here. I thought he played a really good game the other night."

The Cowboys will be reminding Romo of winning without a touchdown pass for quite some time.

Ed Werder

ESPN NFL Insider

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