Monday, November 27, 2006

*** One Giant Collapse *** Mighty Bears Declawed *** Continuing Romo-Mania *** It's Official: God Is A Dallas Cowboy Fan ***

Well, if you're a Cowboys fans who has been holding out before plopping down the 50 or 60 bucks for that new Tony Romo jersey, waiting to be sure your new starting QB is for real and not a fluke, you might wanna head down to the local sporting goods store this morning before the stock clerk raises the price on that #9. Now it's only a question of white home, road blue or the throwback uniform the Cowboys wore on Thanksgiving Day.

Living here in the NYC area, I can tell you that Jets and Giants fans are officially in panic mode, calling up WFAN and ESPN-Radio and hoping the talk show hosts will agree that Romo has to be a flash in the pan, that he will come crashing back down to earth, that it can't be as easy as the kid is making it look, but they can't find anyone to agree with them. One disturbed Jets fan called up and tried to make the point that Romo hasn't faced any good defenses, that the Colts were ripe for the picking, that Romo looked terrible in the Redskins game, his only loss; this is what is known as grasping at straws. For the record, against the Redskins Romo was 24-36 for 284 yards, 2 TDs and no INTs, for a QB rating of 109. But keep in mind that this was the game where a wide-open Terrell Owens dropped a perfect pass from Romo that would have gone for a 74-yard TD, and that even with the drop, Romo had his team in position to kick an easy game-winning field goal from 35 yards out (it was blocked). And of course, his own coach tried to downplay the accolades flying all around his new star, warning everyone to put away the anointing oil. All to no avail, because The Kid is now almost a lock to make the NFC Pro Bowl squad.

Romo-mania continues unabated. As I said to my brother as we looked at magazines in the smoke shop on Saturday, Romo's gotta be on the cover of Sports Illustrated any day now. And sure enough we cracked the latest issue open and there's a cool feature article on Romo leading the Cowboys over the Colts inside. The Romo Revue continued Sunday: an interview with the grinning QB on the CBS pregame show, then another during the NBC Sunday Night halftime -- ending the way all his interviews seem to these days: with a question about the Jessica Simpson rumors.

A 300-yard, five-touchdown, no interception performance on a national stage will do much to increase your profile and bring the spotlight bearing down on you. A 110.8 QB rating will warrant some attention, as will a sparkling 9.20 yards per pass attempt number, and completing almost 70 percent of your passes (69.4) is also a sure-fire way to make a name for yourself. Romo is on his way to shattering several long-standing single-season Cowboy passing records, such as passer rating (104.5) and yards per attempt (8.91), that the great Roger Staubach has held for 35 years. Hall of Famer Troy Aikman completed 69.1 percent of his passes in the 1993 Super Bowl season; Tony Romo is over 70 percent in the five games he's started.

The numbers don't lie. You can have a lucky game or two and fool 'em for a while, but 29-31 over the last 3 second halves? C'mon, get on board the Romo bandwagon!

In 2005, then starting QB Drew Bledsoe confided to Aikman that he hope he never gets hurt at any point in the season, because he'd "never get his job back" if Tony Romo came in. And that was a year ago. Like playing with a great point guard, everyone runs a little harder on the fast break because they know if you're open he'll find you. Same thing with Romo. He spreads the ball around with such infectious enthusiasm, yet he's in control like Steve Nash dashing down the lane before he throws a no-look pass in traffic. Romo might already be the most accurate passer in the entire league when rolling out.

What we might have here, ladies & Cowboy fans, is a young, circa 1993 vintage Brett Favre model, a potential league MVP -- but one under the leash of a control freak like Bill Parcells to rein him in, thus governing the gunslinger's propensity to shoot from the hip.

Dallas is now 7-4 and sits alone atop the NFC East, with the 6-5 Giants playing for their season next week when they host the suddenly resurgent Cowboys next Sunday. Fresh off one of the most monumental losses in the long history of the franchise, the Giants will be as hard-pressed to stop the Ro-mentum at the Meadowlands as I am to stop all the Tony Romo-related puns.

Perhaps lost in the Ro-mania of the last five weeks is the way the Cowboys, one of the youngest teams in the league, have blossomed and come together. The defense is now fourth in the NFL in yards allowed, at 279 per game; and the offense is also fourth, averaging over 376 yards per game. And Dallas is also fourth in point differential (scoring 309 points, giving up 198), perhaps the most reliable metric of overall strength, trailing only 9-2 San Diego, 9-2 Chicago and 8-3 New England.

Individually, Roy Williams has 5 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles and leads the league in takeaways with 7 -- not bad, considering all the abuse he has taken for his supposed lack of coverage skills. And there's not a more feared player on defense in the entire league when it comes to monster hits on opposing skill players.

Don't look now, but Terrell Owens has put together a very good season; after a slow start adjusting to a new team's offense, his 61 catches are good enough to tie for fourth in the NFC, and his 8 TD catches lead the league.

Backup RB Marion Barber has 11 touchdowns (9 rushing, 2 receiving) -- good enough for fourth highest in the league and trailing only established stars like LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker. Barber has 492 rushing yards to go along with starter Julius Jones' 892, and the solid-all-around second-year back from Minnesota could probably start for more than a few teams in the league, if it weren't for the presence of the equally promising Jones.

Also encouraging is the continued improvement of third WR Patrick Crayton, giving the offense another legitimate weapon to go along with Owens, WR Terry Glenn and TE Jason Witten. He has become a favorite third-down target of Tony Romo, and his 28 catches for 437 yards and 3 TDs take pressure off the starters in the passing game.

LB DeMarcus "Every" Ware has put together his two best games of the year following the loss of DE Greg Ellis to a season-ending injury. He can attack from either side of the line, and his drops back into coverage can also disrupt the passing game, as evidenced by his clutch play against the Colts on their final drive.

And P Mat McBriar continues to lead the league with his 48.8 per punt average, giving the Cowboys a potential field position advantage in every game they play.

Now comes the most important stretch of the season, beginning with the battle this Sunday at 4:15. Giants TE/loudmouth brat Jeremy Shockey has already guaranteed a win versus Dallas for his beleaguered squad. When Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells got wind of Shockey's quote, he reportedly told a team PR guy he wanted to see the tape immediately -- no doubt planning to use it for bulletin board material to fire his first-place team up.

The Giants no doubt lead the league in talking, what with Jeremy Shockey, Plaxico Burress, and nonstop chatterbox Tiki Barber, as well as the weekly unprofessional/unhinged sideline antics/histrionics of their head coach, Tom Coughlin. Apparently Shockey gave no such assurances of victory against the Tennessee Titans, and after Eli Manning and rest of the team's monumental collapse in the fourth quarter, they finally get their chance to let their play do the talking for a change against a Dallas team that Troy Aikman said "has no real weak spots."

As long as Giants DE Michael Strahan doesn't come limping out of the locker room and pull a Willis Reed, Dallas should not lose that game and will probably lose no more than one game the rest of the year, probably at Atlanta. Three of their last four games are at the friendly confines of Texas Stadium. They have a good chance for the second overall NFC seed, with an outside shot of catching the Bears for best overall conference record after Chicago's tough road loss to New England yesterday.

All I know is, after seeing Tony Romo back-slapping Bill Parcells on the Dallas sideline week after week, the Cowboys are gonna be all right. During one of his interviews yesterday, Romo was asked about the upcoming Giants game. Now, you would expect a virtual rookie to look into the camera and mouth all the usual cliches about how he's just glad to be here and how tough the Giants have been. Instead, he apologized to Cowboy fans over how lousy he played in the first Giants game, and then solemnly pledged he was gonna be ready for that game coming up on Sunday. Hey, after all he has shown me this year, I'm not gonna start doubting him now. Looks like the New York football Giants and their big-mouth fans and players may be in for some more unspeakable misery. Couldn't happen to a nicer franchise.

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