Is Tony Romo's Star Fading?
Now Romo's work performance as the Dallas Cowboys quarterback is increasingly under scrutiny, as is team owner Jerry Jones' decision to give his famous starter a six-year, $67.5 million contract extension midway through the '07 season. Sunday's sloppiness in a 17-10 loss in Denver to the 4-0 Broncos only gives the Romo skeptics more fodder.
Fact is, Romo and the Cowboys were beaten at a difficult road venue, Invesco Field, by a fired-up opponent brimming with momentum and confidence.
"They are No. 1 for a reason," Romo said of his encounter with the NFL's top-ranked defense, which limited him to 255 passing yards, sacked him five times, forced two costly turnovers and stopped him two times from tossing a game-tying touchdown pass in the waning seconds from the Denver 2-yard line.
Is Romo slipping, or are the Cowboys (2-2) facing tougher opponents since a Week 1 victory over a winless Tampa Bay team?
In that 34-21 win over the Buccaneers, Romo passed for 353 yards and three touchdowns, posting a 140.6 passer rating. Since then, he's still efficient, completing 57.7 percent of his passes for 437 yards in losses to the Giants and Broncos and a win over the struggling Panthers.
But ball protection has become a problem: Romo has only one touchdown, three interceptions and a lost fumble in his last three games.
The Broncos' resurgent defense saw tendencies on film that they carried into Sunday's contest.
"Our game plan was to press the pocket and keep him in the pocket," said safety Reynaldo Hill, who had one of the five sacks on a backside blitz, a play that forced the lost fumble and led to a Denver touchdown on the next play. "You see, a lot of his good plays are outside of the pocket. We just did a good job of containing him and keeping him in there. We figured if we did that and played solid coverage, eventually the rush would get there."
That's exactly what happened.
"I was getting ready to pull the trigger," Romo said. "If I hadn't been throwing it, I don't think we'd have fumbled, but I was getting ready at that exact moment. I didn't know (Hill) was there."
Blindside pressure caused Romo to throw hurriedly and many drives ended with the Cowboys' air attack being smothered by Denver on obvious passing downs. The sacks also took their toll physically.
"It's tough when you're not executing up to (your) standards," Romo said. "We got into too many 3rd-and-long situations, and you've got to protect the ball in those situations. Make sure you can try to get (first downs) but just be careful with the throws."
"I think we always can do things better and differently. I think we can always improve. I think they obviously did well -- give them credit. They have good players, a good scheme and they did a good job."
Now America's Team is under fire for blowing fourth-quarter leads twice in three games, and the focus of criticism as always, is the starting quarterback. It's Week 5 and suddenly, the Cowboys trail the Giants in the NFC East by two games.
Coach Wade Phillips, facing the heat even more than Romo, knows the Cowboys can't afford to let the once-dependable passing game get away from them in the second quarter of the season.
"The problem is we weren't connecting on the shorter (passes)," Phillips said of Sunday's performance. "I think that's what hurt us because you can't open up the bigger ones if you don't complete the shorter passes. The eight to 12-yard passes, we didn't seem able to get those open, or connect on those well enough."