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Dallas Cowboys' Romo has support of Jerry Jones, Phillips

02:27 PM CST on Wednesday, December 31, 2008

By CALVIN WATKINS / The Dallas Morning News
cwatkins@dallasnews.com

IRVING – The support for quarterback Tony Romo is everywhere, but is it justified for a quarterback who enters the off-season with a 27-12 mark as a full-time starter with no playoff wins?

Jerry Jones and Wade Phillips think so.

During the last four weeks of the season, Romo had more turnovers – nine – than touchdown passes – five. Even so, Phillips said he believes Romo is an elite quarterback despite his 5-8 record in December.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has a 5-8 record in December games.
LOUIS DeLUCA / DMN
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has a 5-8 record in December games.

"Certainly some things happen with him that don't happen with other quarterbacks," Phillips said. "But we've got to rein it in in some areas. I see too many good things, too many great things that he does that other people can't do.

"I think he can be an elite quarterback and a Pro Bowl quarterback and a top player."

Jones said he can't finger why the team, especially Romo, struggles down the stretch.

But other top quarterbacks have endured similar problems.

New Orleans' Drew Brees didn't have a winning record in the last month of the season until 2004 – his fourth year in the league, when he was still with San Diego.

Eli Manning of the New York Giants went 1-4 in his rookie year of 2004.

Yet, recent Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks have finished seasons strong.

Tom Brady, who has three rings, is 28-5 in December. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger (18-6) and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning (33-19) also have titles.

But late-season success still doesn't guarantee a championship. Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers is 14-0 in December since taking over in 2006, and he has only one playoff victory.

"I can't assess it," Terrell Owens said of Romo's late-season struggles. "I won't try to assess it. I think every individual has his evaluation of himself across the board, whether it's offensive guys or defensive guys."

Part of the Cowboys' problems late in the season, at least offensively, could be the scheme.

Romo said Philadelphia exposed the weakness in the Cowboys' offense in the regular-season finale.

Romo and Owens said things need to change for the offense to get better.

"We'll look at everything in the off-season," Romo said after the Eagles game. "We understand we need to do a few things, I think, to counter some of the things that the other team is doing. We're starting to get an understanding of what other teams were starting to do as the season went on, and obviously we didn't execute to do what you needed to win some of these games."

Chemistry problems are another issue for Romo.

Patrick Crayton, Roy Williams and Owens had separate meetings with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to discuss why Romo looks to tight end Jason Witten more on pass plays. There was also a concern about Romo's poor practice habits, which the receivers said affect the game.

On Monday, Phillips insisted the wide receivers and Romo are on the same page.

"He knew to spread the pressure out among us all as players," Crayton said. "He has only been our starter for three seasons and will continue to improve as a quarterback. For some reason, as a team, we have not played well in December."

Williams, acquired in October from Detroit for three draft picks, has taken a cautious approach regarding Romo. The receiver never made an impact, catching only 19 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown.

"I guess that's what a training camp is for," Williams said. "So hopefully he can get used to me and I can get used to him and build that trust factor."

Romo also must cut down on turnovers.

He missed three games with a fractured pinkie on his throwing hand, yet still threw 14 interceptions and led the team with seven fumbles lost this season.

Romo played with a sore back late in the season and suffered rib damage in the Eagles game that caused him to collapse in the shower.

His toughness isn't in question, but his improvement as a quarterback is a concern.

"I think we will look at Romo to have another year that I hope can make us better," Jones said. "I think it will help in a big way. I would like to see some more continuity on offense, and the quarterback position is such an important position."Down the stretch

DOWN THE STRETCH

A look at notable quarterbacks and their regular-season records in December-January:

Player Team(s) Became starter Record
Tom Brady New England 2001 28-5
Drew Brees S.D.-New Orleans 2002 14-17
Matt Hasselback Seattle 2001 18-13
Eli Manning NY Giants 2004 11-13
Peyton Manning Indianapolis 1998 33-19
Philip Rivers San Diego 2006 14-0
Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh 2004 18-6
Tony Romo Dallas 2006 5-8
Kurt Warner* St.L.-Arizona 1999 18-11
Donovan McNabb** Philadelphia 2000 18-8

* Warner played for the Giants in 2004 but didn't play any Dec.-Jan. games

** Missed the 2002, 2005 and 2006 seasons with injuries late in the season

A FINISH TO FORGET

How Tony Romo fared in the last four weeks of the regular season:

Opp. Com-Att-Yds TD/INT Fumbles Pts. off turnovers Result
at Pittsburgh 19-39-210 1/3 1 10 L, 20-13
vs. N.Y. Giants 20-30-244 2/0 0 0 W, 20-8
vs. Baltimore 24-45-252 2/2 0 3 L, 33-24
at Philadelphia 21-39-183 0/1 2 17 L, 44-6

• • •

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