Saturday, January 16, 2010

As expectations grow, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo maintains even keel

By Todd Archer
The Dallas Morning News

IRVING, Texas — Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach did not do Tony Romo any favors.

Every pass, every handoff, every touchdown, every interception, every win and every loss by Romo is measured against the Dallas Cowboys' Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

A week after winning his first playoff game against Philadelphia, Romo is facing another question: Can he take the Cowboys to an NFC Championship Game?

Nothing is exactly good enough when compared to Aikman's three Super Bowl rings and the two Staubach owns. The bar is constantly raised as the stakes climb, which Aikman knows all too well.

"I got booed out of Texas Stadium after winning three Super Bowls, so I'd have to say the answer is an emphatic yes," Aikman said of the ever-moving bar. "You can't rest on your laurels."

At the beginning of the season, the question was whether Romo could cut back on his interceptions. He answered with a career-low nine and having the third-lowest interception percentage (1.6) in the NFL.

As the Cowboys entered December, the question was whether he could exorcise his personal horrors when the regular-season got white hot and deliver the Cowboys to the playoffs. Even in the losses to the New York Giants and San Diego to start the month, Romo was nearly flawless. Then came the win at New Orleans that changed everything and began a three-game winning streak to close the regular season.

Last week the question was whether Romo could win in the playoffs, having lost his starts in 2006 to Seattle and 2007 to the New York Giants. He did, completing 23 of 35 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-14 thumping of the Eagles.

And now this week's game at Minnesota against Brett Favre, the quarterback Romo idolized growing up in Wisconsin.

"I don't think about perception and a bar or a standard or anything like that," Romo said. "You just try to be as good as you can be and go out there and play as well as you can. If you're good enough, like I've said, you'll have a chance."

Aikman won his first seven playoff starts with back-to-back Super Bowl seasons in 1992-93. Staubach won his first three, including a 24-3 win against Miami in Super Bowl VI.

"The first (playoff) win is the hardest, and it's been that way for that club and Tony," Aikman said. "I thought he handled himself extremely well in the last two games. For those who have questioned his ability to rise to the occasion or his ability to compete in a pressure-packed situation, I've always disagreed with that. Not because he hasn't always played well in those situations but because he looks forward to being in those moments."

Each week, Romo has talked about incremental improvement each day, never thinking about what happened in his past or what might happen in the future.

"You just don't go there because it's too important right now, today, to get everything done that you need to get done for this game," Romo said. "The improvement side is always there because you're always building toward something. It allows you to keep an optimistic or positive attitude about trying to obtain your goal. So this week, if we win this game and move on, we got a little bit better. If we go in and somehow lose this game or something happens, you know, in that regard, well, we got better this week for the next time we start and get on that football field. It's always a process, and it always gets you a little closer toward reaching your goal."