Thrown Away: Romo's Best Season Yet Goes To Waste

Romo threw only three interceptions since the beginning of November.

IRVING, Texas -It's nothing new. The quarterback is the only player on the team for whom the win-loss record is an accepted standard of judgment.

In that respect, Tony Romo had an average year. Combine all the other measures of success for the position, though, and it was one of the greatest seasons by a quarterback in Cowboys history. Romo threw for 4,184 yards, tossing 31 touchdowns against 10 interceptions while completing over 66 percent of his passes. His passer rating of 102.5 was fourth best in the league, behind only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

In the end, what did it matter?

"One of the biggest disappointments that I've had in football, period, is to have a quarterback of that skill level, and not have him competing in the playoffs," owner Jerry Jones said after Sunday's loss at New York. "Can't be confused with it, but this was very close to the playoff-type situation that you'd want to have him as your quarterback."

While the blame for the loss and the overall mediocrity of the Cowboys' season has to be distributed to the team as a whole, Romo is not one to minimize his role.

"I think anytime you are in this position and you don't come out and win it's hard to take as a quarterback," Romo said. "It's very disappointing, frustrating. I have a lot of emotions going right now."

In the 31-14 loss to the Giants, the outcome was all but taken out of Romo's hands, as pressure from New York's front led to a season-high six sacks, despite his best scrambling efforts, and the Cowboys defense allowed 31 points. With the season coming to an end, the most obvious areas for improvement are along the offensive line and the defense.

Jones said three years ago his philosophy in constructing the roster would be to make it Romo friendly, and personnel changes to both those areas would certainly qualify. The quarterback himself stays out of those discussions, however.

"I'm not involved in any of that stuff," Romo said. "I think you're always trying to evaluate your team and get better. I think our football team will find a way to be better next year. I don't know in what capacity but we're building something here."

Part of the building process was revamping the offensive line in 2011, with the team moving on from three high-priced veterans, and inserting two rookies into starting roles to begin the year, along with a second-year pro. The result was a slight uptick in the running game, but 39 sacks, eight more than last season. The 36 sacks taken by Romo were the most of his career.

While head coach and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett made sure to point out the challenge of such turnover on the offensive line, he also signaled on Monday that the front five wasn't set in stone moving forward.

"They did some good things," Garrett said. "They did grow throughout the season. But we want to get better in that area as well."

Of course, Romo does not escape without blame, despite his fine statistics and the fact he led several come-from-behind wins. The disappointment of 2011 is based largely on the fact the Cowboys held double-digit leads in the fourth quarter in three of their losses this year.

Against the Jets in Week 1, he had a pair of late turnovers that helped New York complete a comeback. Three weeks later, he threw interceptions for touchdowns on consecutive drives, as the Lions overcame a seemingly insurmountable deficit.

Even in the home loss to the Giants in Week 14, when Romo passed for 321 yards and four touchdowns, the biggest play of the game was an incomplete pass intended for Miles Austin. The wide receiver claimed he lost the ball in the lights, just barely overthrown on what would have been a long, game-winning touchdown.

In each game, there are those one or two throws, or moves in the pocket or audibles at the line of scrimmage a quarterback either makes or does not make. Inevitably, they have a profound impact on the result.

"I feel like whenever we lose a football game, I always look back to a play or something that I feel I could have changed the offense," Romo said. "Playing this position, that's ultimately what pressure you put on yourself."

It's easily the highest pressure position in all of sports.

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