Weekly column: America’s Team’s quarterback becomes America’s biggest choker

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Weekly column: America’s Team’s quarterback becomes America’s biggest choker

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Ron Rokhy

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Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) exits the scene of his latest fourth-quarter choke job, Met-Life Stadium, home of the New York Jets. On Sunday, Dallas led 24-10 in the fourth before two Romo turnovers gave way to a furious rally by the Jets. The Cowboys ended up losing 27-24. Photo courtesy of MCT.

Only one week’s gone by in the 2011 NFL regular season and we can already see it’s going to be a a year dominated by quarterbacks, even with Peyton Manning out of action.

Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers did what was expected of them; Cam Newton and Ryan Fitzpatrick went well beyond what anyone anticipated; and then, of course, we have your bottom-of-the-barrel performers like Donovan McNabb.

And even worse than McNabb’s 39 total Week-1 passing yards: Tony Romo’s latest flub.

The Dallas Cowboys entered this year hoping to forget last season’s blunder which ended with a playoff-less 6-10 record. However, what they’ve gotten so far is more of the same: Romo and his inability to lead them in crucial moments.

With about a minute left in a 24-24 tie with the New York Jets Sunday night, Romo threw an interception, his second fourth-quarter turnover, when he forced a pass to Dez Bryant, which led to a game-winning 50-yard field goal by Nick Folk.

Heartbreak isn’t new to the Cowboys as they’ve witnessed Romo choke away decisive games year after year. However, owner Jerry Jones seems to be delusional, as he told ESPN Dallas on Tuesday, “I thought Romo played one of the best games I’ve seen him play.”

If that’s the best Romo has to offer, then Jones can forget about his championship aspirations, because at this point, trading Romo seems to be the only available option.

It’s quite clear: Romo is not what the Cowboys need, and for them to reach their true potential as an elite-level team, he needs to be traded. In 2009, Jones stated that he “wouldn’t trade Romo for nobody,” but he should seriously reconsider that right now because Romo is the poster boy for athletes that choke under pressure, even surpassing the notorious LeBron James.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not questioning Romo’s skill as a player; he has a career QB rating of 95.6 and has two 4200-yard/25-TD seasons under his belt, but the problems lie with his poor decision-making in crunch time and his inability to put away opponents, both of which are qualities found in championship-caliber quarterbacks.

Romo’s first big choke-job was in the 2007 playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks, when he botched his center’s snap as the Cowboys were attempting a potential game-winning 19-yard field goal. He lost control of the football, got it back, then attempted to run it in for a touchdown, but was stopped just short of the goal line. Dallas ended up losing 21-20.

His next mishap occurred when the 13-3 Cowboys faced the New York Giants in next year’s playoffs. Starting from the Giants’ 48-yard line, with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter and his team down by four, Romo could only advance 25 yards before throwing a game-ending interception in the end zone.

Continuing his trend of failures, only this time in the final week of the 2008 season, the Romo-led Cowboys lost to the Eagles 44-6 to miss the postseason. Romo’s embarrassing stat-line: 183 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and two lost fumbles.

The following year wasn’t much better. Romo again showed his inability to handle pressure as he had four turnovers and his team was pummeled by the Minnesota Vikings, 34-3.

But an alarming trend started last season: Romo’s playoff shortcomings began infecting his regular-season play, something he’s generally good at.

During the 2010 regular season, Romo lost five of his first six games before going down with a season-ending broken collarbone at the hands of Giants’ linebacker Michael Boley. In those six games, he threw seven interceptions.

And with the nightmare of a Week 1 Romo had, it doesn’t look like the trend will change.

Romo’s only getting worse, and the Cowboys have too good of a receiving core to rely on someone who can’t convert in the clutch. Five years of failure in a row is too many, and it’s time to let go.

Perhaps Romo should take lessons from Dallas Mavericks’ forward Dirk Nowitzki on how to go from choker to closer, or better yet, maybe Jones will come to his senses and just trade him.