NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — All that time off watching from the sideline last season, all those offseason practices he led, even getting married — none of it could shake Tony Romo from his habit of reckless gambles that turn into costly late-game mistakes.
Twice in the final 10 minutes Sunday night, all Romo had to do was throw the ball away, or simply fall down. Had he done the smart, safe thing on either play, the Cowboys likely would’ve come away with a stunning start to their season.
And Jets fans wouldn’t have spent Monday morning in gloat-city.
Instead, he fumbled 3 yards from the end zone and threw an interception that set up a field goal, leaving the Cowboys with a different kind of stunning finish: a loss to the Jets that marked the first time in 248 tries that Dallas couldn’t cash in on a fourth-quarter lead of at least 14 points.
“I cost us a football game,” Romo said afterward.
“For three years now, one thing you can say about this team, it doesn’t lack fight,” said Jets head coach Rex Ryan. “We might not win every game and we might not play great every game, but this team is going to give you what we have.”
Cowboys fans and critics took to the WFAN airwaves Monday to wholeheartedly agree, dredging up all his past mistakes. The tone of the bashings was that this meltdown is further proof Dallas will never win a Super Bowl as long as Romo is playing quarterback, that he’s too much of a gunslinger and not enough of a leader.
Inside the locker room, the view was completely different.
Teammates insisted the Cowboys wouldn’t have been in position to win had Romo not played so well the first 50 minutes, and that there were plenty of other mistakes that contributed to the loss. They also considered his mea culpa as proof that he is a leader.
“That is him trying to create his identity and show, ‘I am going to be responsible for how far this team goes,’” defensive end Marcus Spears said. “I think that is something he put on his shoulders and I personally like it. … It will only help him to feel that way.”
Linebacker Keith Brooking didn’t even know Romo took the blame, or that the quarterback has a reputation for making risky decisions with a game on the line.
“That’s not the rap in this locker room,” Brooking said. “Who cares what everybody else thinks? … That wasn’t Tony Romo’s loss. … That’s not the way this team looks at it.”
Brooking said Romo picked apart one of the best defenses in the league. He considered it as Romo continuing a roll that began in training camp.
“I’ll take that guy over anybody in this league,” Brooking said. “Y’all might think I’m crazy, but I’m telling you right now, he’s going to have an all-time year. He’ll probably shatter every record. … I’ve seen enough football to know the guy’s ready for the next level.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Monday that Romo isn’t the only quarterback to let a great performance be undermined by a stumble at the end. He talked about all quarterbacks struggling to balance being smart and being aggressive.
“I think the better players get, the more aggressive they tend to be,” Garrett said. “In this particular case it didn’t work out well for us, but you never want to take away a quarterback’s aggressiveness from him.”
Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said he has “no filter” when talking to Romo, so he would tell his buddy if he thought the quarterback blew it. Witten described the emotion as “more of a disappointment than it is more anger, frustration toward him.”
“I think that’s across the team,” he said. “That’s not just the tight end talking, or a teammate or a buddy. You go around this room there is a lot of confidence in him and what he does and what he creates for the team. Nobody is pointing the finger, and it’s not just saying the right thing.”
Do you blame Romo? Sound off in the comments below…
(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)