Commentary

Cowboys, Romo wake up and send message to the NFC

Tony Romo is the real deal ... and so are the Cowboys, who woke up at halftime to throttle the defending NFC champion Bears.

Originally Published: September 24, 2007
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- The team from "Big D" whipped up on the franchise with the big-time D on Sunday night. By embarrassing the battered Chicago Bears, the Dallas Cowboys offered a powerful statement about which team could supplant the Super Bowl XLI runners-up as the NFC's representative in Arizona this season.

Oh, and Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo continued to deliver this loud and potentially lucrative message to owner Jerry Jones, as well: Time to quit dawdling, Jerry, and reward the fifth-year veteran with a long-term contract extension.

"He just continues to prove how special he is," wide receiver Terrell Owens said of Romo after a lopsided 34-10 victory that left the 3-0 Cowboys as one of five unbeaten teams. "As [poorly] as we played in the first half, he came out and made plays in the second [half]. He can create stuff when there's nothing there. And when he gets on his game like that, he's hard to beat, and we're hard to beat."

Tony Romo
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireTony Romo has the Cowboys off to their first 3-0 start since 1999.

Perhaps drawn down to the level of the pathetic Chicago offense in the first half, the high-powered Dallas attack sleepwalked through the opening 30 minutes, with eight penalties, a turnover and countless mental lapses that led to a 3-3 score at halftime.

But once Romo and the Cowboys woke up, it was lights-out for the Bears. As Dallas took control of the game on both sides of the line of scrimmage, Romo began shredding the Chicago defense. He hit 13 of 18 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, in the process compiling a gaudy 146.5 passer rating for the half. For the game, he was 22-for-35 for 329 yards.

Owens, who worked the middle of the field nicely, had eight receptions for 145 yards. Tight end Jason Witten, who schooled overmatched Chicago strong safety Adam Archuleta, one of the league's most overrated players, had six catches for 90 yards and a touchdown. Reserve tailback Marion Barber rushed for 102 yards on 15 carries and scored once on the ground and once on a 10-yard reception in which Archuleta whiffed on a goal-line tackle.

But it was Romo's show. Perhaps most impressive was how he used his feet to elude an often-fierce Bears' pass rush, to buy time and to permit his receivers an opportunity to uncover. By unofficial count, nearly two-thirds of Romo's passing yards in the second half came on plays in which he moved deftly around the pocket to bob and weave away from Chicago defenders.

As evidenced by his career rushing statistics -- 147 yards and one touchdown on 43 carries, with a long run of 17 yards -- Romo won't win many footraces. But he is more nimble-footed than he appears and nifty enough to create time to survey the field.

With his uncanny vision and knack for spotting crossing receivers just as they gain separation from opposition defensive backs, he is a rare commodity.

"You're right, he isn't very fast, but he sees things so much quicker than other guys and knows what he has to do to get the ball to us, that he makes up for it," said Witten, who scored on a 3-yard pass in the third quarter when Romo faked a weakside lead play and found the tight end in the end zone. "He's got incredible vision, really good instincts and feel for the game, and that makes a huge difference."

Terrell Owens
Jerry Lai/US PresswireTerrell Owens is having a banner year on the receiving end of Tony Romo's passes.

For the most part, Romo was the difference in the game. Once again, Chicago starter Rex Grossman struggled mightily, and the Bears, now 1-2 and beset by injuries, might have to consider a change this week.

The maligned Grossman was 15-for-32 for 195 yards, with no touchdown passes, three interceptions and an anemic passer rating of 27.5. One of his many errant throws was returned 28 yards for a touchdown by Dallas cornerback Anthony Henry. Grossman spent much of the night either missing receivers wildly or skipping balls several feet in front of them.

At one point, after a third-down pass sailed wide by several yards, some frustrated fans began chanting, "Let's go, Cubs!" Indeed, Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano, who fired a shutout at Wrigley Field on Sunday afternoon, might have been a better alternative at quarterback than what the Bears had on the field.

Things weren't much better for the Chicago defense, which lost two starters in the season opener and finished Sunday's game with defensive tackle Tommie Harris (knee), two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs (groin) and cornerback Nathan Vasher (groin) on the sideline. There were, for sure, a lot of wounds to be addressed in the Bears' locker room after they allowed the most points at Soldier Field since a 41-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the 11th week of the 2004 season.

"I just can't put a word on it," said Bears wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who dropped at least three passes.

He might want to consider "inept" as an appropriate appraisal.

On the other hand, the Cowboys, who are 3-0 for the first time since 1999, are in a groove.

"When we get rolling like we did in the second half, we're pretty tough," Romo said. "We have a lot of playmakers out there, you know? I mean, I just try to throw the ball and get out of the way."

Fact is, though, because of Romo, the Cowboys could go a long way this season. It might be the other NFC teams that will have to get out of the way.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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