Older, Wiser Tony Romo Leads Key Win
But when Romo started to talk about what he'd accomplished, he sounded wise beyond his appearance.
"If you keep the mental discipline ..." Romo explained in a quite deliberate and thoughtful delivery, "keep getting better, keep learning what they're doing ... you can do some good things."
I fully expected Romo to lean back in his seat at the podium and start stroking the gray hairs on his chin.
If the maturation of Tony Romo has not yet been completed, it is getting there. And when it does, the rest of the NFL is going to be where the Eagles found themselves in their home stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, on Sunday night -- on the short end of a final tally.
Indeed, Romo on Sunday night didn't play like the Romo of old. In fact, he hasn't played like the Romo of old -- the wing-it-from-the-seat-of-his-pants Romo -- for most of this season, or certainly, the last several outings. He was efficient. He was patient. He was heady, even. And he dared to be opportunistic only when the moment demanded it, specifically when the game was tied at 13 with a little over eight minutes to go and his guys were facing a third down with 14 yards to go near midfield.
Earlier in the night, Romo explained, he saw the Eagles' cornerbacks sneak up on some routes by his favorite new target, Miles Austin. He put it in his memory bank until that crucial third down and, sure enough, Eagles' cornerback Sheldon Brown crept up again on Austin. Only this time, Romo had Austin stop and go. Romo threw a strike to Austin in stride behind Brown.
Austin split a couple other defenders and raced 49 yards into the end zone for what was the winning touchdown.
"Tony and Miles have a great feel for each other," Cowboys' tight end Jason Witten said in front of his cubbyhole, while Romo fielded a few questions a couple seats away. "We figured we'd take a shot there and it worked out good for us."
It gave the Cowboys control of the NFC East with a 20-16 win. It pushed their record to 6-2 while the Eagles drifted back to 5-3.
"Our quarterback played well again," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said.
It was the fourth outstanding outing in a row by Romo. The previous three he didn't throw an interception, which was the longest such streak of his career. He didn't keep that category clean against the Eagles, having one long ball intercepted, but it wasn't hurtful. He wound up completing 21 of 34 pass attempts for 307 yards and the biggest touchdown of the game.
He not only won the game for his team, but he brought the Cowboys from behind, a 13-10 deficit.
Romo could always do this sort of thing, of course. That was what so attracted Jones to him in the first place, and inspired all of those comparisons to Brett Favre, premature as they were. Unfortunately, it was the bad side of Favre that Romo seemed to emulate a little too much. For now, that is history.
Romo didn't just win the game against the Eagles, a team that he and the Cowboys lost to, 44-6, in their final outing during an end-of-the-season meltdown last year. He managed Sunday's game, which is something else he hasn't been noted for doing.
"I think that gets overlooked the last four or five games," Witten said of the way Romo handled the game. "He's done really well. It shows his development."
Romo never let his team get backed up. He never put them in a situation where they had to be desperate. He was sacked several times but tucked the football away.
"I thought that was key for us," Phillips said of Romo's value of every possession.
That hadn't always been a trademark of Romo.
What Romo is doing right now won't, however, be good enough in the end. He is past being judged for what he does during the regular season. It is all about what he can do during the postseason, which is somewhere he didn't even get to a season ago.
But he appears, for now, to be headed in the right direction.
"I think, individually, I've improved tremendously," Romo said, "just from all the things I was able to take from last season, and not just that game [the 44-6 Week 17 loss].
"You always look at yourself from an honest perspective and you have to say, 'What do I have to improve upon?' And there were things I had to get better at to take another step, and I feel very confident in going about that process and coming along, and I've still got a ways to go."
Whether it is humility or maturity, Romo was sounding the right notes.