Romo a Go-Go
There's a lot tolike about the Cowboys' new starting quarterback—most notably the way he canpick apart a defense
THE COWBOYS lovemany things about Tony Romo, their ascendant fourth-year quarterback, who threwfor 226 yards on Sunday in his fourth career start to help beat the previouslyundefeated Colts 21--14. They love his mobility on the field and his work ethicoff it. They also love that Romo, 26, was a solid teammate long before hereplaced Drew Bledsoe at halftime of an Oct. 23 loss to the Giants. "Tonywas a guy people in the locker room gravitated to," says veteran tight endJason Witten. "He's got a spark to him. And we knew the team would feel thespark if he played."
There's muchmore. Here is a snapshot from Sunday's win that shows why the Cowboys and coachBill Parcells—"My expectations of him are probably higher than yours,"he said to the media after the Indy win—are so infatuated with Romo, anundrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois. With the game tied at 14 midwaythrough the fourth quarter, Dallas had a first-and-10 on its own 39. The playcall was for wideout Terry Glenn to come off the line from the right as if torun a hard slant to the middle (Romo had hit him three times on this move inthe third quarter alone), then break the route straight up the hash mark."A seam move," said Romo. But as Glenn started his slant, Romo sawcornerback Jason David angling inside to jump the route—a typical tactic in theColts' speed-over-power defense. With David in the alley, Glenn would have beenunable to run up the seam.
"I watched somuch film this week, and I kept noticing, Hey, these DBs really reactfast," said Romo after that game. "They watch the quarterback's eyesand the ball, and they move."
With that inmind, Romo pump faked, drawing David far inside. Glenn, seeing David'sreaction, angled the pattern to the deep sideline—"Now it was aslant-and-go, which was totally different from what we called," saidRomo—and Romo hit him over his outside shoulder for a 33 yard gain. Five playslater the Cowboys scored the winning TD.
Romo's rise hasbeen partly obscured by other matters: the benching of veteran Bledsoe, theTerrell Owens sideshow and even Romo's appearance in the celebrity blogosphere,where he's been linked with Jessica Simpson. The completion to Glenn was theproduct of diligent tape study and superb athletic execution. Substance overstyle.
Romo completed 19of 23 passes in Sunday's win. Since taking over for Bledsoe, he has connectedon 70% of his attempts and thrown five touchdowns, with just two interceptions."He's getting better every week," Owens said after Sunday's game."We're getting really comfortable with him." Most important, theCowboys are 3--1 under Romo, the only loss being that fluky 22--19 defeat atWashington. Dallas plays four of its last six games at home.
At 6:17 on Sundayevening Romo sprinted from the floor of Texas Stadium toward the runway to theCowboys' locker room. The game ball from his first home victory was clutched inhis left arm, but Romo didn't keep it. Instead he gave it to defensive backAaron Glenn, whose third-quarter deflection of a Peyton Manning pass led tolinebacker Kevin Burnett's 39 yard interception return, which tied the game at7 and awakened the Cowboys and their fans.
"That playwas the difference," said Romo. "We're down seven; they're driving. Weneeded something. That's why I gave Aaron the ball." And that, too, is whythe Cowboys love Romo.
Hail to TheChief
The story line inKansas City last week centered on the return of quarterback Trent Green fromthe severe concussion he suffered in Week 1. But while Green played effectivelyin the 17--13 victory over the Raiders, the real standout on Sunday—andthroughout Green's two-month absence—was Pro Bowl running back Larry Johnson.Since his breakout season in 2005, Johnson's consistent performance hasaffirmed his place among the league's elite backs. And in Green's absence, hisoff-the-field role became just as critical to keeping the 6--4 Chiefs in theplayoff hunt.
Last Thursday,Johnson was in a familiar spot, a cozy private room in the back of GeorgeBrett's restaurant in K.C., where he gathers each week with his fellow runningbacks to analyze film. It's a tradition begun by fullback Tony Richardson thatJohnson took upon himself after Richardson signed with the Vikings in theoff-season. That sense of responsibility was what coach Herm Edwards hoped tospark last February when he asked him to take a leadership role. Johnson hasalso relished his job as linchpin of the offense, averaging 29 carries and 138yards over his last five games while scoring nine rushing touchdowns."Larry doesn't lead by being a rah-rah guy," says K.C. returnspecialist Dante Hall. "He does it by showing up every Sunday. The guys inthis locker room know that no matter what happens, he's going toproduce."
That productionhas come despite numerous setbacks on the offensive line. The unit, alreadydepleted by the retirement of Pro Bowl left tackle Willie Roaf before theseason, has endured injuries that could have been crippling. Right tackle KevinSampson suffered a foot injury in late October, Pro Bowl left guard BrianWaters hurt his knee on Nov. 4, and Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez sprainedhis shoulder at Miami on Nov. 10; all missed Sunday's game. Nevertheless,Johnson rushed 31 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns against Oakland on his27th birthday. "It's not so much who they have on the offensive line as whothey have in the backfield," said Raiders defensive end LanceJohnstone.
Says Johnson,"I try to let people know I'm going to be physical. Sooner or later thoseguys are going to wear down and get tired of hitting me. That's how I controlthe game."
Jeffri Chadihagoes Inside the NFL Tuesdays at SI.com/football.
In consecutive wins over the Buccaneers and the Rams,the Panthers' defense (right) had a combined 10 sacks and six takeaways whileallowing only 333 yards. St. Louis gained just 111.... There's no mysterybehind the Saints' spell of three losses in four games: They have 12 turnoversduring that stretch. In their six wins they've given the ball away just seventimes.... Donovan McNabb's torn right ACL, which will keep him out eight to 12months, means 1) the Eagles have no idea right now who their Opening Daystarter will be in 2007, and 2) they'll likely take a quarterback on the firstday of April's draft. McNabb's backups are 36-year-old Jeff Garcia and29-year-old journeyman A.J. Feeley.... When Brett Favre left Sunday's 35--0loss to the Patriots with an injured right elbow, it marked just the seventhtime in his 251 Packers starts that he failed to finish a game because ofinjury.
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AL TIELEMANS (ROMO)
COMMANDING Romo has shown impressive ability to adjust his calls at the line.
MARGARET BOWLES /ICON SMI
LARRY W. SMITH/EPA (JOHNSON)
CARRYING ON A rash of injuries to the offense has left Johnson with a heavy load.