IRVING, Texas – Quarterback Tony Romo began the season throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in three of his first seven games. That's never happened since.
Romo's only thrown three interceptions in his last seven games and has five wins in that span, including his most recent against Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the top-ranked Pittsburgh defense. Romo finished with a 111.3 quarterback rating and threw for 341 yards, the most against the Steelers since Tom Brady threw for 350 yards at Heinz Field in November 2010.
This year, Romo's been a closer. He's got eight wins and already recorded his fourth 4,000-yard season, despite never scoring more than 10 points in the first half of a game this season. The Cowboys haven't led at the half in any of their past five games, and yet they're 4-1 in that span.
"I think our football team has developed that mental toughness that no matter what's going on during the football game, as bad as it may look or whatever, we get to that fourth quarter, we have a shot to win the game," Romo said, "and we believe that we can do that. We have had a lot of comeback wins this year. Here was another one."
Through the early part of the season, Romo took the same type of flak he's endured throughout his career. An efficient game would be followed by a four or five interception performance. Romo kept insisting it was just a matter of execution. That answer seemed dull considering not much had changed halfway through the year. The team sat at 3-5, still had turnover and penalty problems and stared another mediocre season in the face.
"From that point on, you feel like every game you're playing in is for your playoff life," Romo said.
Romo stuck with it and figured out a way to shift around the pocket behind a maligned offensive line that's been shoddy all year. He started finding his star threat in Dez Bryant, he got DeMarco Murray back, and Sunday against the Steelers, his line blocked better than it had perhaps all season.
"If those guys up front play as well as they did and give me the kind of time that they did today, I'll play good football week in and week out and this team will go a long way," Romo said after the win. "I feel very comfortable to continue with that quality of play."
There's no reason to doubt that fact. He's finished without an interception in five of his last seven games and has 13 touchdown passes in that span. Romo threw two touchdowns Sunday against the Steelers to give him 54 career multiple-touchdown games, placing him fifth in the NFL since becoming a starter in 2006. He already has the club record in that category.
Romo's also fifth in the NFL in games with a completion percentage of 70 or greater since becoming a starter, completing 71.4 percent of his passes Sunday. He's been criticized for failing to execute in key moments, yet his numbers don't back that statement. Romo has the franchise record with 18 career come-from-behind wins, including five this year, which are also a franchise high in a season.
After beginning the year with a 9-to-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he now has 22 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions.
"As the season progresses, you understand what your team needs, what we're good at, what we're struggling at," Romo said. "You know, I said it earlier in the year; we made some mistakes that cost us, things that we haven't made lately. It's everybody. But obvious ones are just some routes, me throwing the ball in different spots then I did earlier in the year, getting more time in different games; all that plays a role. If our guys can block the way they did today, we're going to be a dangerous football team."
The slow starts seem inevitable. Even when the Cowboys offense seems to be flowing as it did in the first half against the Steelers, Dallas still ended up with only 10 points on the board at halftime. But the positive about this offense with Romo at the helm is that no lead seems insurmountable. Even trailing 23-0 against the Giants in the middle of the season, the loss came down to a replay review of what was originally ruled a game-winning catch by Bryant.
Now, at the most crucial time of the season, those second-half comebacks led by Romo are becoming Cowboys wins and have allowed this team to share the division lead and control its own playoff destiny.
"We just know that at the end of the day, whether we're down three, whether we're tied, whether we're down 10, we're going to battle and find a way to get the job done," Romo said. "By no means has it been pretty over the last six or seven games, but I do know that our football team knows that we can compete and win late."