By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Potentate of Pigskin (@footballfacts)
Tony Romo fans are often called “Romo-sexuals.”
They are the star-crossed lovers of the modern football world.
Romo set hearts aflutter Sunday with a brilliant performance in which he clearly outgunned the great Peyton Manning, a nearly impossible feat in this season in particular.
But in the end there was a huge Romo mistake, his only mistake, in the final two minutes and a gruesomely painful 51-48 loss to the undefeated Denver Broncos when Matt Prater booted an easy 28-yard field goal as time expired.
It might have been the best performance ever – yes, ever – by a quarterback in a losing effort.
And in that respect, it was a game that summed up perfectly the entire Tony Romo Experience in Dallas: the Cowboys had no running game and no defense. They had only Tony Romo. They needed every ounce of a Herculean and perfect effort from Romo to win the game.
Romo delivered a Herculean and near-perfect effort.
His lone interception on an otherwise brilliant day handed the Broncos a short field at the Dallas 24 with just 1:57 to play, setting up Prater’s easy game winner.
Romo is truly a lightning rod and fans will continue to point out that he “can’t win the big game.” But it’s hard to pin this loss on the quarterback.
In fact, no quarterback in history put up more points and played better – and still lost the game.
Most Points in an NFL Loss
Gauging the best effort in a loss will always involve some sense of subjectivity. That’s not the case with scoring. We do know, empirically, that the Cowboys tied an NFL record for most points scored in a losing effort.
It’s a very short list of NFL teams that scored 48 points or more and lost.
- Seattle 51, Kansas City 48 (OT) – Nov. 27, 1983
- Cincinnati 58, Cleveland 48 – Nov. 11, 2004
- Denver 51, Dallas 48 – Oct. 6, 2013
That’s it. It should be noted the pro football record for most points in a loss came in the old AFL. Back in 1963, rookie coach Al Davis and his Oakland Raiders led by quarterback Tom Flores outgunned George Blanda’s Houston Oilers 52-49 in a game that featured 11 TD passes.
Otherwise, 374 teams have scored 48 points or more in a game including playoffs (NFL, AFL, AAFC). Those 374 teams have gone 370-4 (source: profootballreference.com).
Put another way: Romo and the Cowboys scored enough points to win 99 percent of NFL games.
Best Performance by a Losing Quarterback
Proving most points in a loss is easy and inarguable. Proving the best performance by a losing quarterback is not easy will never satisfy everyone. We're not going to prove it here. But there's a hell of a strong case to be made for Romo.
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning is in the midst of perhaps the greatest five-game streak by any quarterback in history. He’s passed for 20 touchdowns in five games while leading the Broncos to 230 points and a 5-0 record.
But Romo outplayed Manning on Sunday, the first QB who can make that claim in a regular-season game since Manning’s three-pick mulligan against Matt Ryan and the Falcons back in Week 2 2012.
Here’s how the two stacked up Sunday
Manning was more accurate. But Romo clearly got the ball down field far more effectively (iincredible 14.06 YPA), got the ball in the end zone more often and posted a higher efficiency rating.
Romo and the Cowboys also averaged 11.75 Real Passing YPA, the best downfield performance by any quarterback this season, according to our Big Boards at CHFF Insider.
And Romo did it with no supporting cast.
Manning had the luxury of handing the ball off 27 times to a stable of ball carriers who ripped off 111 yards. Romo handed the ball off 13 times for a total of 45 yards. In fact, Romo’s single carry for 7 yards made him the second-leading ball carrier on the Dallas offense.
Along the way, Romo joined the short list of 15 quarterbacks to top 500 passing yards in a single game, and just the 13th to do it in regulation. For a little perspective, even the brilliant Manning has never passed for 500 yards in a game.
However, long time Cold, Hard Football Facts readers know that NFL games are won by efficient passers, not gaudy, big-volume passers. As we noted elsewhere today, the 15 quarterbacks to top 500 yards went just 8-7 in those games.
Passing for 500 yards, then, is often a sign of desperation, not efficiency, and not often victory.
In Romo’s case, he gave us a rare game that was both historically prolific and historically efficient: he produced gaudy, big-volume stats, but did it with incredible effectiveness, the likes of which the NFL has never seen, certainly not in a losing effort.
Romo vs. The NFL's 500 Club
You can see Romo's rare combination of great volume and great efficiency if we take a look at the 15 members of the 500 Club below.
- 14 of 15 500-yard quarterbacks attempted 45+ passes. Romo attempted just 36 passes, the fewest by any player to pass for 500+
- His 14.05 YPA is the highest ever by a member of the 500 Club
- His 140.0 passer rating is the second highest ever by a member of the 500 Club
- He’s just the sixth player in history to attempt 30+ passes and average 14.0+ YPA
- The 500-yard passer averaged 52 attempts and 9.9 YPA*. Romo attempted 36 passes with 14.06 YPA
Hell, even the great Dan Marino passed for 500 yards just once. He needed 62 attempts to get there, averaged just 8.7 YPA, put the ball in the end zone only three times -- and was picked off five times.
As we've often pointed out, passing YPA and passer rating are normally reliable indicators of victory. Romo is the first quarterback in 16 years to average 14.0+ YPA in a game and lose (min. 20 attempts).
In fact, just 61 passers (since 1960) have averaged 14.0 YPA or more in a game. They've gone 54-7, with Romo and the Cowboys the seventh loss. (source: profootballreference.com).
Here’s how Romo stacks up among the 15 quarterbacks to pass for 500 yards in a game (sorted by YPA). You can see the results of each game here.
Norm Van Brocklin*
* We don't have Van Brocklin's game data, just the final yardage. The 500-club averages above do not include his game stats.
All 15 quarterbacks put up great volume numbers. Only Tittle was in the same league in terms of efficiency, with the most TD passes, the fewest interceptions, and the highest passer rating.
At the end of the day, none of it mattered. Tony Romo and the Cowboys lost a game that was virtually impossible to lose if we looked only at his performance.
The Dead Weight Dallas Defense
The reality is that the true blame in Dallas during the Tony Romo Era has been on the defensive side of the ball. That unit, filled with big names and big draft picks, has habitually underproduced and underachieved in recent years, even as fans pointed the finger at Romo and the offense everytime something went wrong.
Romo has been the Cowboys quarterback since 2006. Only the 2009 Cowboys finished within the Top 12 league wide in scoring D (No. 2).
Remember, Romo and the Cowboys led the NFL in comeback victories last year, even as the team was labeled America's Chokers.
The dichotomy between great offense and porous defense has been on display once again here in 2013, and never more so than against the Broncos on Sunday.
Romo and the Cowboys entered the game No. 4 in Offensive Passer Rating and No. 6 in Real Quarterback Rating; the defense was No. 24 in Defensive Passer Rating and No. 23 in Defensive Real QB Rating. That offense put up 48 points against an unbeaten team. That defense surrendered 51 points and has been gashed for more than 500 yards each of the past two weeks.
Nobody can win consistently, even often, in those circumstances.
The offense today is No. 2 in scoring; the defense No. 22 in scoring.
The loss to Denver appears the latest chapter, the greatest chapter, and perhaps the most bitter chapter, in Romo’s star-crossed legacy.
He's the player doomed by circumstance and perhaps by fate to lose, and to take the blame, no matter how well he plays.