Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo plays two opponents at once when he is on the field.
There are the 11 defensive players trying to contain him. And there is the narrative that he is suspect in the clutch, a good bet to make a crippling decision late in a game to kill his own team’s chances.
There are examples of that, of course, from throughout his nine-year career. Just last week Romo threw a late interception after his team had blown a 23-point lead to the Green Bay Packers. His critics howled and the Cowboys appeared headed for another disastrous finish.
But don’t sell that narrative to the Redskins, who five times now have seen Romo rally to beat them in the fourth quarter of a game. The latest was Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field when Washington led 23-14 with 14:56 to go and still lost 24-23.
Dallas would get the ball just twice more after falling behind by nine. Both times resulted in points, including the game-winning touchdown pass to running back DeMarco Murray with 1:08 remaining.
“[Romo is] a tough guy to play against regardless of the criticism he receives. We’d rather him not be in the division,” Redskins defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. “Not a guy you want to play against twice a year, especially with the talent he has on the perimeter. He can make those big plays so that’s why you have to try and make them. You can’t count on him to not make them.”
Battling a sore back, which he’d faced during practice this week and tweaked again during the game, Romo fought through the pain and produced a dominant fourth quarter en route to the victory.
With the Redskins leading 23-14, Romo was 9-for-12 for 140 yards on his team’s final two drives. He helped put the Cowboys in position to hit a field goal and then led them 87 yards down the field for the go-ahead score to Murray.
“It was time we had to score,” Romo said. “I think we enjoy those opportunities to be in that situation. These last few years we’ve done really good when we get in that position to go down and score. And you just have to have that belief. I think our football team does.”
No NFL quarterback over the last three seasons has led more fourth-quarter comebacks than Romo, who is now at 12 game-winning drives when his team entered the fourth quarter tied or trailing. In his career, he has 19 fourth-quarter comeback wins.
“Unfortunately, [Romo has] done that to us a number of times since I’ve been here,” Redskins linebacker London Fletcher said. “But, again, take our hats off to him. I know he’s much maligned in some of the things he’s done in the past that probably cost them ballgames. But today he made plays to win the ballgame.”
And that included two key fourth-down conversions with his team’s season likely on the line. On the first drive, which ended with a Dan Bailey 25-yard field goal, Romo found wide receiver Cole Beasley for a 20-yard pass on fourth down at the Washington 40. Six plays later the Cowboys were within 23-17.
Romo later took advantage of a blown coverage when Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson slipped trying to cover wide receiver Terrance Williams. That 51-yard play set up the game-winning points.
The touchdown pass to Murray was classic Romo. He dropped back, didn’t see an opening and then rolled to the right, hitting Murray with a bullet. The running back plunged into the end zone and the Cowboys had set up another winner-take-all battle next weekend against Philadelphia for the NFC East title.
“[Romo’s] playmaking ability, it’s backyard football,” Cofield said. “Whenever a play breaks down he’s got that ability to slip sackers and make a big throw. He’s a test every snap.”