Mark Maske (c) 2014, The Washington Post. ARLINGTON, Texas — Tony Romo is perhaps the most accomplished NFL quarterback no one quite seems to trust.
But as the playoffs near, no quarterback league-wide is playing better.
Romo won’t generate much support in the NFL MVP race. He probably isn’t even the top league MVP candidate on the Dallas Cowboys, with the season that tailback DeMarco Murray has had. Quarterbacks such as Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, New England’s Tom Brady and Denver’s Peyton Manning have plenty of superlatives heaped upon them — and rightfully so. Romo is known as the guy with one career playoff victory and the propensity to mix brilliant play with agonizingly ill-timed mistakes.
But entering Sunday’s game against the Redskins at FedEx Field, the Cowboys are back in the playoffs after losing their regular season finales the previous three years with the NFC East crown at stake on each occasion, and Romo deserves plenty of credit. In a season that began with serious concerns about a 34-year-old quarterback coming off back surgery, Romo has thrown for 3,406 yards and 32 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. In the past three games, all victories, Romo has 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions while connecting on 61 of 77 throws. That’s a completion percentage of 79.2.
“Tony has obviously been a great quarterback for this franchise for a long time,” Cowboys Coach Jason Garrett said Sunday after Dallas’s division-clinching win against Indianapolis. “I think we’ve done a good job organizationally of making the team better around him. I think the way he’s played this year is the way great quarterbacks in this league have played for a long time. That’s how Troy [Aikman] played. We ran the ball really, really well, controlled the line of scrimmage. And when Tony had opportunities today and, really, throughout the year, he just cashed in on them. [It’s] hard to play better than he played today.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said recently these Cowboys were simply better than the Dallas teams that suffered the final-week failures the previous three regular seasons. Romo echoed those sentiments Sunday.
“Some of those years, you look back, we weren’t very good, but we did a really good job to get ourselves in position to have a chance,” Romo said. “That’s hard to do, just to have a chance to win the division. The funny thing is as we’ve gotten better, and now we’re a better ballclub, I think it took more wins to do it. The East just got better.”
Romo supplanted Aikman as the Cowboys’ career passing-yards leader Sunday on, appropriately, a touchdown throw to tight end Jason Witten, Romo’s longtime friend and career-long security blanket.
“I literally was on the bus from the airport [with Witten] when we arrived in Dallas together for our first rookie minicamp,” Romo said. “He’s obviously got a special place in my heart. I want more success for him than maybe anybody else on the planet. He deserves it. I want him to have that. For him to be the guy is just a bonus.”
Jones said in the winning locker room late Sunday that it was particularly gratifying for the Cowboys to get back to the playoffs without a roster filled with high-priced players.
“I am so pleased that we’re able to do what we’re able to do and do it without some of the more premium players,” Jones said. “Now, Romo is a premium player relative to salary. But the fact that we’re doing it with lesser players — if you will, numbers — is a pretty good thing. We’re, what, the second-youngest team in the NFL? That gets my attention a little bit on how to put this together. When we won the first Super Bowl, we were the youngest team in the NFL. . . . This numbers thing is impressing me. We’re having success as opposed to standing here this time last year, we had three or four players — five, really — that represented about 60 percent of our payroll that weren’t playing.”
One of the Cowboys’ salary cap-related moves last offseason was releasing standout pass rusher DeMarcus Ware. That led to some interesting ruminating by Jones.
“I would like to think that I’m gonna adjust all the time,” Jones said of the team’s latest roster-building approach. “But the success we’re having with the decisions we made with our roster this year going into this year gets my attention. I don’t have to sit down here and give a state of the union that says how we’re gonna do it going forward. I don’t know. But I know this: I know you can have some pretty good success as a team but not necessarily have some of the more higher-paid players. And sometimes our system just dictates that. In our case, our cap dictated that we didn’t have a pressure [elite pass-rushing] player.
“Now, I’m gonna throw this one at you: What if you had Ware out here, the way he’s playing right now? We didn’t cost ourselves a Super Bowl because we don’t have him out there, did we? A major pressure player out here right now would make you want to give a quarter of the stadium for him.”
Jones was asked whether he was second-guessing himself for the decision to release Ware, who has 10 sacks this season for the Broncos.
“No, I’m just saying what’s going through my mind,” he said. “But I am second-guessing it. Yes, I am. Yes, I am. Because if you thought you were that close — which we thought we were that close a couple times, and that’s why we hung in there and mortgaged the house. Denver did that this year.”
Jones said he didn’t initially regard this as a rebuilding season, just a year with a different approach.
“I think it wasn’t so much as rebuilding as, ‘We’re gonna try to get there without the benefit of the A-plus personnel commitment that you get when you combine the high salary with experience,’ ” Jones said. “Now, those players usually are better players. But they’ve got to be healthy. They’ve got to be out there. And the rest of the team, the supporting team, has to do it. Now, we’ve done that for several years and went 8-8 three times. And now we just peeled off of it, and here we are.”