ARLINGTON, Texas – There aren't many teams in the NFL that can get by without a good day from its quarterback. The Cowboys certainly are not one of them and haven't been for a long, long time.
That couldn't have been more evident than here on Sunday in the much-anticipated Week 1 opener at AT&T Stadium. If the Cowboys are going to do anything this year – and by anything I'm also talking about just getting this thing back to another 8-8 season – they must have really good play from the quarterback position.
Sunday was anything but.
To say Tony Romo had an off day just doesn't do enough justice. In my opinion, it was arguably one of the worst games he's ever played.
I remember the Bills game in 2007 when he had six turnovers. Yet, he still fought back and led his team to a win. He had six turnovers against the Giants in 2012 and still nearly pulled out a victory.
But that wasn't the case here against the 49ers, a team that you knew would be physical on both sides of the ball, despite a lackluster preseason that seemed to give Cowboys fans some hope.
All I kept hearing this week was how bad the 49ers looked over the last month. I guess Dallas' 0-4 preseason didn't matter, though.
Still, the Cowboys came out and played pretty solid on defense. They actually ran the ball fairly well and the kicking game was good.
So with all of that, how are you down 28-3 at the half? The answer was easy – the quarterback.
And I'm a Romo fan all the way. I think he's been underrated for years, and I think he usually is a guy that gives his team a chance to win. But he didn't do that Sunday. In fact, some of his decision-making gave them no chance to beat a good 49ers squad.
The ironic part of his performance wasn't really about Sunday, but Wednesday. That's when he scoffed at the question of him returning to form and went a step further, saying he plans to be better this year.
Maybe he'll get there, but this wasn't a great start for that.
This was like Romo 2004, when he was playing only in the preseason. Just rolling around and slinging it into the end zone for a double-covered Jason Witten after missing a wide open Dwayne Harris. Or firing a pass into near triple coverage for Dez Bryant. That actually happened twice and both times it got picked off.
To me, the most critical of his mistakes occurred midway through the second quarter on a second-and-1 from the 2. Seriously, can you have a more advantageous set of downs than that? As my colleague Derek Eagleton pointed out next to me in the press box, the Cowboys could conceivably run the ball seven times in a row to get this touchdown.
Or … they could not run it at all and let a defender come through for a 9-yard sack that changes the entire set of circumstances and leads to a field goal. Run the ball with DeMarco Murray, who was having success on the ground, and you probably tie the game, or take a sack and settle for a 7-3 score. They chose option B.
When asked after the game, Romo fell on the sword like he normally does. He said he made some "poor decisions" and knows his team simply can't afford that.
I found it a little troubling that he was focused more on the interceptions and needed some help recalling the sack he took on second-and-1. To me, that was a huge play in this game.
You've already gone down 7-0 because of a quirky Murray fumble that was returned for a score. But the offense has answered back nicely an is knocking on the door for a touchdown. Forget knocking, the door was basically cracked with a "Come On In" sign sitting there.
Judging by Murray's puzzled reaction, he thought he was going to get the ball. Instead, Romo seemed to check out of the play and looked for Bryant on the left side.
Basically, Romo said the 49ers had a "free hitter" in the hole, meaning there was an extra defender than the Cowboys could account for.
Sorry, but isn't that part of spreading out the defense and having your running back find the hole that works. If they stuff you in the hole, then figure it out on the next play, and maybe the next.
Equally as bad was the interception in the end zone when he just didn't see Harris over the middle and then apparently didn't see linebacker Patrick Willis, who picked off the pass. With a 21-3 deficit, there's no way you can come away with nothing there. A field goal would be demoralizing, but at least it's points.
That interception he threw was the kind of stuff Bill Parcells was trying to erase from Romo's game early in his career.
When I watched him play, he didn't look comfortable at all. His deep balls weren't deep enough. Bryant, Harris and Terrance Williams all had jump-ball situations on what should've been routine deep throws. Harris actually came down with his, which led to the Cowboys' first touchdown.
But more than the throws, Romo didn't have any desire to run either. And the way the defense often played it, the middle was open for the taking. Yet, Romo wasn't that interested, only running once for 9 yards, although that play was called back because of a penalty.
And since we're passing blame here on Romo, let's even it out somewhat.
Tyron Smith signed a mega contract back in training camp to be the team's rock on the left side. He certainly didn't have his best day. Not only did he have a foreshadowing false start before the game's first snap, but he also had a leg-whipping penalty. Romo got hit 11 times and sacked three – that's not exactly protecting the quarterback's blind side.
But like always, the success falls on the shoulders of the quarterback.
With this team, I've said it numerous times that Romo is the best thing the Cowboys have going for them. Maybe that's not the case anymore, and it certainly wasn't on this day.
No, I'm not calling for a change – that's ridiculous. Just pointing out the Cowboys need to figure out a way to call a game that plays more to their strength. [embedded_ad]
And with this offensive line and the way Murray can run the ball, maybe it's starting to be more of a run-oriented team. If that's the case, the Cowboys might need to tighten the grip on their quarterback and give him less leeway to change plays.
We know the defense is going to be suspect for most of the year, but if the quarterback is as well, this team won't have a shot to be competitive. And for an ugly first half of football, the Cowboys certainly weren't.