|Tony Romo is pivotal to Dallas' success. (AP)|
Tony Romo was identified by one analyst last week at the league's MPP: Most Pivotal Player. After hearing this explanation, I agree whole-heartedly with the assessment and would like to run with it (or air it out, cause it's Romo).
The MPP has the most control over the outcome of a game. Win...or lose. Romo has had that affect with the Dallas Cowboys early in the year.
Go ahead, remove him from the Cowboys lineup and replace him with Jon Kitna and let's simulate the outcome.
After Week 1, I told Austen that the Jets were just a Tony Romo away from losing 24-10 to Dallas. That was a little off, but the 14-point game was the same.
Up 24-17 midway through the fourth quarter, Romo fumbled the ball away at the two-yard line on a play that, if converted, could have given the Cowboys a 31-17 lead. It was not to be, the Jets tied the game at 24. With 59 seconds left, Dallas had the ball at its own 41, about 25-30 yards from game-winning field goal range (less if David Buehler bashed one). Romo got intercepted on the first play and it was returned within field goal range. The Jets won it 27-24.
If Kitna's in there, he doesn't fumble on the two and thus Dallas gets at least a field goal, giving them a 27-14 lead and, even if the Jets find a way to comeback for two scores, Kitna takes care of the throw late and Dallas again hits a field goal for a 30-28 win (worst case scenario).
In Week 2, Kitna entered the game when Romo got hurt, but Tony returned late in the third quarter. With the team trailing 24-14 to San Francisco midway through the final quarter, Romo completed five of seven passes on an 80-yard touchdown drive. Still trailing by three, he took his team down the field with four minutes left, going five for six, and got Dallas to within a position to tie the game with a regulation-ending field goal. On the Cowboys' first offensive play in overtime, Romo found Jessee Holley (who had two career catches) for 77 yards to get into position for a chip shot, game-winning field goal.
If Kitna stayed in, he wouldn't have completed the same passes, overtime never would have happened and the Cowboys would have lost a disappointing game.
In Week 3, Dallas struggled throughout and was trailing in ugly fashion by a score of 16-12. Romo mounted two fourth quarter drives starting at his own 14 and 19 to get within field goal range and won the game 18-16.
If Kitna played, those drives would have sputtered and Dallas would have laid a terrible egg at home against their biggest rival.
In Week 4, Romo capped off the first drive of the third quarter with a touchdown pass to Jason Witten to take a 27-3 lead. It was Romo's third TD of the game. Detroit ran a short drive and punted. Romo threw an interception returned for a touchdown on the ensuing play, 27-10. Seven plays into the following drive, Romo threw another interception; again, it's returned for a touchdown 27-17.
The Lions clawed back in it to 27-24, but, with 4:22 left, Dallas got the ball at its own 20 with the chance to run off some clock. Romo threw his third pick of the game on the first play, Detroit went on to drive down the field for the score at the 34-30 win.
If Kitna's was in, he wouldn't have risked those throws with a 27-3 lead and Dallas would have cruised to a blow out win.
In summary, with Tony Romo in the game, Dallas lost two games it should have won against the Jets and Lions and won two games it should have lost against the 49ers and Redskins. If Romo doesn't mess up against the Jets and Lions, the team's 4-0. If he doesn't make the plays he does against the 49ers and Redskins, the team's 0-4. It's 2-2.
While it might have beat New York and Detroit with Kitna and lost to San Francisco and Washington, Dallas also would have been 2-2. The result leaves the actual influence of the Most Pivotal Player in question, but it certainly does nothing to dispel the notion that win or lose, Tony Romo is pivotal to Dallas' outcome. If the Cowboys are going to be a playoff contender, it's going to be because Romo makes more big plays than he gives up.