Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Life On The Road

No matter how good your quarterback plays, you're not gonna win many road games when your team commits 11 penalties for over 150 yards, including a key 50-yard pass interference call. Life in the NFL is really that simple.

The Cowboys outgained the Redskins by almost 100 yards, and despite botching an ill-advised two-point conversion and dropping a pass that would have put the game away, they were still in position to win the game when they lined up for a chip shot field goal with seconds remaining. Then came one of the strangest plays in the long strange Cowboys-Redskins rivalry, capped off by one last questionable bit of officiating, and by the end it was the Redskins kicking the game winning FG with no time left on the clock.

Terrell Owens not only cost his team precious field position with his over-the-top end zone celebration, but his failure to haul in a picture perfect Tony Romo pass for what would have been a 72-yard TD drained the Cowboys of momentum and made the game closer than it should have been.

There has to be a limit as to how much of a distraction the team can allow one player to be. That limit may be reached sooner than later. I don't think Parcells will put up with too much more from The Player, for the sake of his own mental health. I think Patrick Crayton can step in and start tomorrow without too much dropoff; the problem is the depth at the position.

Romo played a poised, error-free game, completing 24-36 for 284 yards and 2 TDs, including a clutch 28-yard dart to TE Jason Witten with under a minute left to set up the winning 35-yard FG attempt. But it was the penalties and dropped pass that will define this game. After the Mike Vanderjagt FG was blocked and returned by the Skins' Sean Taylor, a repeat convicted felon who should have been suspended for at least the season by the gutless NFL, an extremely bogus 15-yard personal foul was called for facemasking, when it was obvious the five-yarder should have applied in this case. That gave Washington a second chance to kick the winning FG, and the Cowboys now stand at 4-4, after a devastating kick in the gut of a loss.

It was the middle game of 3 straight road games, and a win next week at Arizona would give Dallas 2 out of 3 for that stretch before coming home to face Indianapolis in Romo's first home game as starting QB.

The only bright spot is the continued blossoming of Tony Romo. We may be looking at an 8-8 season, given the difficulty of the remaining schedule (Colts, Giants, Eagles, Saints, Falcons) and the expected growing pains for a first-year starter at QB. But despite the fact that Bill Parcells is in the last stage of his coaching career, he has build a solid, young and talented team that now has a QB to match.

For the year, Romo has an excellent QB rating of 93.7, completing 64-99 passes for 816 yards, 6 TDs and 4 INTs. That's against three top-notch defenses: Giants, Panthers & Redskins. You can't play the position much better, especially if you have just two NFL starts to your name.

If Romo can remain efficient and continue to mature into a reliable, Drew Brees-type player at the position, then the season can be considered a positive building block for the future. And if Romo shows the kind of progression he has to this point, then a 9-7 or even 10-6 record is not out of the question -- which may be enough to sneak into the playoffs and gain some much-needed postseason experience for this up-and-coming club.

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