IRVING, Texas – I'm writing this feeling a bit like a crazy person, because I wouldn't have guessed I'd feel so alone in siding with Tony Romo.
Some context: in the wake of the Cowboys' 39-28 loss to Atlanta on Sunday, my esteemed coworkers presented me with an interesting hypothetical. Having watched both the stagnant Dallas offense and the hapless Dallas defense in the second half against the Falcons, who did you miss more? The team's plethora of missing defensive starters, or its Pro Bowl quarterback?
Within this hypothetical, choosing the defense includes no shortage of big names. The Cowboys are currently without stalwarts like Greg Hardy, Rolando McClain and Jeremy Mincey, not to mention a key role player in Randy Gregory – for a variety of reasons.
Knowing all that in advance, give me Romo.
I know the math doesn't check out. You're talking about one offensive player versus the prospect of four key defenders – and it's easy to argue that a slightly improved defense would have been able to gut out a win on Sunday.
I don't care. In a quarterback-driven, offense-happy league, give me the signal-caller who has proven himself capable of playing at an MVP level and single-handedly pulling results out of the fire.
I hate to be overly critical of Brandon Weeden, because he did not play a bad game against Atlanta. But it should have been obvious to anyone watching that the Falcons were starting a Pro Bowl quarterback under center, while the Cowboys were trying to make it work with a backup.
Weeden's stats were admirable, as he completed 22-of-26 passes for 232 yards. If not for a bad decision on an interception, you could argue that he played virtually mistake-free, as well.
Mistake-free doesn't quite cut it, though. The Cowboys couldn't connect on any big gains – either down the field or outside the numbers. It's understandable why Weeden opted for shorter, higher-percentage throws, but it's also not a thought process that's bound to scare many NFL defenses.
Even without Dez Bryant, I'm confident Tony Romo could have spread the field and made the Falcons back off. Dallas had possessions of three plays, seven plays, three plays and six plays in the second half of that game. We'll never know for sure, but I imagine those numbers improve with Romo dictating the offense.
It was just two weeks ago, if you'll remember, that Romo went 5-for-6 for 72 yards in the dying moments to beat the Giants – and he completed passes to three different receivers in the process.
In fact, Romo found eight different receivers in that Week 1 win. He also found eight different receivers against Philadelphia, before he was lost with his broken collarbone. Sunday against the Falcons, Weeden spread the ball to four different targets – two running backs, a tight end and a receiver.
Again, none of this is to say that Brandon Weeden was bad – and I'm certainly not trying to argue that the Dallas defense was good. They'll lose plenty more games this year if they continue playing that way, and they'll undoubtedly benefit in two weeks when they (tentatively) return to full strength.
That said, there's a definitive confidence and play-making ability lost when you don't have your starting quarterback. I think every team in the NFL would agree that there's limits to what they can expect to achieve when they don't have their top guy under center.
Dallas got a first-hand glimpse of those limitations on Sunday.