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Chris Graham: Can we leave Tony Romo alone now?

The season on the line, down 23-14 in the fourth quarter, Tony Romo comes up lame after completing a third-down pass to Miles Austin. (Insert joke about Tony Romo having been lame for years here.)

footballstock1The Dallas Cowboys quarterback could barely hand the ball off to DeMarco Murray on the next two plays.

Still visibly in pain while completing a third-down pass to Terrance Williams, it was now fourth-and-one. Less than seven minutes to go. The ‘Boys were maybe in field-goal range, but it would have been a 50-plus-yarder on a slick track. Time to go for it.

A false-start penalty makes it fourth-and-six. Romo, hobbling, in intense pain, hits Cole Beasley on a slant for 20 yards, leading to a Dan Bailey field goal that cut the margin to six.

On Dallas’ next possession, Romo, on second down from the Dallas 28, sidestepped a Washington blitz and hit Williams for a 51-yard gain that got the Cowboys into the red zone.

Fast forward a few plays, and it’s fourth-and-goal from the 11. Dallas has used its last timeout. A minute-sixteen to go. Season on the line.

Romo again evades a blitz, finds Murray, who slipped out of the backfield uncovered after chipping a lineman, for an 11-yard score.

Ballgame.

Make that 12 fourth-quarter comebacks for Romo in the past three seasons, tops in the NFL. This one is maybe the most dramatic.

We won’t know until after the game today what was ailing Romo in the fourth quarter. For several plays, he looked unable to put any weight on his right leg, to a point where it seemed that it might make sense to fire up backup Kyle Orton and get him in the game.

If that happens, win or lose, and Romo is the goat, again. Win with Orton, and there’s quarterback controversy nonsense in Big D. Lose, the season probably comes to an end a week early, and the questions flare up again, Does Dallas need to get rid of Tony Romo?

No. Dallas does need to overhaul its coaching staff, starting at the top with Jason Garrett. And it needs to field a defensive unit that isn’t historically bad (this year’s group had given up the second-most yards of any defense through 14 games in NFL history).

It does not need to cut ties with Romo and go in another direction at QB. Romo, at 33, has at least four good years left, and maybe more. And he’s far from being the first elite-level quarterback to put up big numbers without having led his team to a win in the big game.

(See Marino, Dan; Kelly, Jim; Moon, Warren.)

The ‘Boys have the elements of a team that can win a championship in place right now. Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Whitten will, barring injury, be together for at least another four seasons. That Big Three is reminiscent of the Troy Aikman-Michael Irvin-Jay Novacek grouping that won three Super Bowls in Dallas.

You can’t count on being lucky enough to find another Emmitt Smith to take advantage of the open running lanes that the passing game opens up, but you can find a play-caller smart enough to run the ball (knock-knock, Coach Garrett, knock-knock) to keep defenses honest.

Overhauling the D is a tougher trick. In the ‘90s, pre-salary cap, you could make over a roster from one year to the next, but you can’t do that now. Once Jerry Jones concedes that he’s not Gil Brandt, maybe that process can begin anew.

And then maybe we can get off Romo’s back. The guy can play quarterback, and as he showed Sunday, season on the line, his are made of brass. Give him a running game and a D, and he’ll win his Super Bowl before he’s done.


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