Too much praise and too much blame is a fact of life for quarterbacks, exemplified by none more than the pair that dueled Sunday at FedEx Field.
Both have been probed and poked, dissected and inspected. Both have enjoying varying levels of success in their career, with Washington's Rex Grossman having started for a Super Bowl team and Dallas' Tony Romo being considered (by some) among the game's best at his position.
No one would dare put Grossman in that conversation. Yet he was nearly Romo's equal for 70 minutes in the Cowboys' 27-24 overtime victory. He was nearly everything you'd want in a quarterback. He was nearly victorious.
That's a whole lot of "nearly," which is what you get with Grossman. But he avoided the catastrophic turnovers that plague him and drilled passes that his backup would never attempt, let alone complete.
We might always experience the cringe factor when Grossman drops back to pass, the involuntary reflex that causes us to hunch our shoulders and tense up as he scans the field. Sunday marked his 10th start with the Redskins, and he had thrown at least one interception in nine of them.
We have reached the point where the postgame analysis didn't center on Grossman's interceptions - those are a given. Instead, it's assessing how much blame he gets compared to his intended target(s).
True to form, Grossman was good for a pick Sunday (we can debate whether Anthony Armstrong deserves some fault for his route against Dallas cornerback Orlando Scandrick). And it had the potential to be a back-breaker, too, occurring on the first play from scrimmage after Dallas took the lead, 24-17, with just under nine minutes left in the game.
What a shame. Grossman actually had outplayed Romo through the first three quarters, posting a 100.0 quarterback rating to his counterpart's 98.9. He ran for one touchdown and threw for another with 14 seconds left in the first half, giving Washington a 14-10 lead.
But, for a change, Grossman's interception wasn't the end. The defense held and gave him a chance to produce - from Washington's 11-yard line. We cringed and tensed as Grossman dropped back 10 times on the drive, but he completed none to the Cowboys and eight to the Redskins, including a beautifully-placed fade to Donte Stallworth with 14 seconds remaining.
"It's kind of a situation where I could throw it to anybody," Grossman said.
That's usually the problem, because "anybody" means opposing players, too. But Grossman demonstrated why he gives Washington the best chance to win, completing 25 of 38 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns.
"Bad Rex" showed up on just a handful of plays and shoulders little responsibility for the Redskins' sixth consecutive defeat.
Conversely, "Good Romo" did just enough to prevail. For the third consecutive game - all victories - Romo threw at least two TD passes and no interceptions. He bought time in the pocket, sliding up and slipping out, extending plays and allowing his receivers to get open.
"One of the best things that Tony does is feel what's going on around him in the pocket," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "Over the course of his career, he has developed into a really outstanding pocket passer without losing the ability to see things and use his instincts and feel for the game."
You can't coach the "feel" that Romo demonstrated on both of his fourth-quarter TD passes. He improvised to find Laurent Robinson from seven yards out, tying the game at 17, and then Jason Witten for a 59-yard go-ahead score.
"That kind of stuff happens, bang, bang, bang," he said, trying to recall specifics "You just roll with it."
Romo has rolled with a lot in his tenure with the Cowboys, including a 1-3 playoff record. His meltdowns against the New York Jets and Detroit Lions earlier this year sparked another round of questions on whether he's truly an elite quarterback.
Grossman has rolled through his own critics and skeptics. He rolled through being benched earlier this year and the two-interception performance when he regained his job last week against Miami. On Sunday, he rolled through the Redskins' lethargic first quarter (21 yards) and his near-disastrous interception.
The 89-yard touchdown drive to force overtime didn't prove anything we don't already know: Grossman can be efficient when he doesn't kill you.
The same is true for Romo, but that's no solace at 3-7.
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