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Romo a Go-Go
There's a lot to like about the Cowboys' new starting quarterback—most notably the way he can pick apart a defense
THE COWBOYS love many things about Tony Romo, their ascendant fourth-year quarterback, who threw for 226 yards on Sunday in his fourth career start to help beat the previously undefeated Colts 21--14. They love his mobility on the field and his work ethic off it. They also love that Romo, 26, was a solid teammate long before he replaced Drew Bledsoe at halftime of an Oct. 23 loss to the Giants. "Tony was a guy people in the locker room gravitated to," says veteran tight end Jason Witten. "He's got a spark to him. And we knew the team would feel the spark if he played."
There's much more. Here is a snapshot from Sunday's win that shows why the Cowboys and coach Bill Parcells—"My expectations of him are probably higher than yours," he said to the media after the Indy win—are so infatuated with Romo, an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois. With the game tied at 14 midway through the fourth quarter, Dallas had a first-and-10 on its own 39. The play call was for wideout Terry Glenn to come off the line from the right as if to run a hard slant to the middle ( Romo had hit him three times on this move in the third quarter alone), then break the route straight up the hash mark. "A seam move," said Romo. But as Glenn started his slant, Romo saw cornerback Jason David angling inside to jump the route—a typical tactic in the Colts' speed-over-power defense. With David in the alley, Glenn would have been unable to run up the seam.
"I watched so much film this week, and I kept noticing, Hey, these DBs really react fast," said Romo after that game. "They watch the quarterback's eyes and the ball, and they move."
With that in mind, Romo pump faked, drawing David far inside. Glenn, seeing David's reaction, angled the pattern to the deep sideline—"Now it was a slant-and-go, which was totally different from what we called," said Romo—and Romo hit him over his outside shoulder for a 33 yard gain. Five plays later the Cowboys scored the winning TD.
Romo's rise has been partly obscured by other matters: the benching of veteran Bledsoe, the Terrell Owens sideshow and even Romo's appearance in the celebrity blogosphere, where he's been linked with Jessica Simpson. The completion to Glenn was the product of diligent tape study and superb athletic execution. Substance over style.
Romo completed 19 of 23 passes in Sunday's win. Since taking over for Bledsoe, he has connected on 70% of his attempts and thrown five touchdowns, with just two interceptions. "He's getting better every week," Owens said after Sunday's game. "We're getting really comfortable with him." Most important, the Cowboys are 3--1 under Romo, the only loss being that fluky 22--19 defeat at Washington. Dallas plays four of its last six games at home.
At 6:17 on Sunday evening Romo sprinted from the floor of Texas Stadium toward the runway to the Cowboys' locker room. The game ball from his first home victory was clutched in his left arm, but Romo didn't keep it. Instead he gave it to defensive back Aaron Glenn, whose third-quarter deflection of a Peyton Manning pass led to linebacker Kevin Burnett's 39 yard interception return, which tied the game at 7 and awakened the Cowboys and their fans.
"That play was the difference," said Romo. "We're down seven; they're driving. We needed something. That's why I gave Aaron the ball." And that, too, is why the Cowboys love Romo.