Tony Romo has been beaten and battered throughout his career with injuries. At 36, the veteran quarterback is in the twilight of his playing career. The 2016 season – which kicks off Sept. 8 – will be Romo’s 14th season in the league and his 10th full season as the starter for the Dallas Cowboys.
Romo suffered a compression fracture of the L1 vertebra in a preseason loss at Seattle on Aug. 25 when he was tackled from behind by the Seahawks’ Cliff Avril as he was going into a slide. Romo stayed down and immediately reached for his back before walking off the field on his own power after trainers attended to him on the field. This was the worst thing that could of happened to Romo and the Cowboys as Romo – although tough and still a very capable player – is fragile. This is the product of many injuries that the four-time pro bowler has been victimized by during a career full of injuries.
Specifically, the injuries and re-injuries to both his back and left clavicle have caused him to miss 24 games over the last six seasons during which Dallas has gone 6-18. Since 2010, Romo has suffered four back injuries and three fractures of his left (non-throwing shoulder) clavicle. This has left him more vulnerable to open hits by unblocked defenders and blitzing linebackers. Romo’s first back surgery was in April of 2013 to remove a cyst. He had another back surgery that December to repair a herniated disk that he suffered in a game where he lead the Cowboys to a come-from-behind win at Washington.
Back in 2010, Romo broke his left clavicle for the first time in a home loss to the New York Giants on Monday Night Football on Oct. 25, the team’s sixth game of the season. He missed the rest of that season as Dallas was 1-7 at midseason, fell out of the playoff race in early December, and finished just 6-10.
Romo’s toughness really sowed in 2011 during a week two overtime win at San Francisco. Romo suffered a broken rib and punctured lung in the second quarter. He missed part of the game before returning in the final seconds of the third quarter. He proceeded to play with the injury and lead the Cowboys to 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. The final three came on a Dan Bailey field goal that tied the game and forced overtime. Dallas held San Francisco to a three-and-out on the first series of overtime. Romo then hit Jesse Holley with a 77-yard completion on the Cowboys’ first play from scrimmage in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal in their 27-24 win. So Romo has been able to return and play well from some of his injuries and this injury probably illustrates his toughness the best.
Romo’s back issues re-surfaced in 2014. He suffered two fractures in the transverse process of his back during a home loss to Washington on Monday Night Football on Oct. 27. He was not able to return to the game and would miss the following week’s game against Arizona which Dallas lost.
Romo’s 2015 season was interrupted after he suffered a broken left clavicle in a week two win at Philadelphia on Sept. 20. He missed the next seven games before coming back Nov. 22 to spark the Cowboys to a 24-14 win at Miami. Four days later, Romo fractured his left clavicle for a second time on the season when he was sacked in the late moments of the third quarter in a Thanksgiving Day loss to Carolina.
That ended Romo’s season and Dallas went on to lose four of their final five games to finish a dismal 4-12. Romo would start just four games in 2015 and the Cowboys went 3-1. They were 1-11 in games he missed in 2015. Earlier this year, Romo had a surgery done on his left clavicle called the mumford procedure to provide more strength and stability to the bone.
Romo also missed three games in 2008 with a broken finger on his throwing hand. He also suffered a badly bruised right (throwing) hand in a home loss to Philadelphia on Dec. 24, 2011. He played with it the following week at the Giants but Dallas was unable to win in a game that gave the winner the division championship and a playoff spot.
All these injuries to Romo and yet the Cowboys have managed to stay in the thick of the playoff chase in recent years. Although Romo missed 12 games in 2015, Dallas was not officially eliminated from the playoffs until they lost to the Jets on Dec. 19 to fall to 4-10. From 2011 through 2013, the Cowboys were never able to pull away from their division foes as they finished 8-8 each season. Yet they stayed alive for the playoffs the whole regular season. Their playoff chances came down to the final regular season game against a division rival each of those seasons and all three game were chosen for Sunday Night Football. Dallas lost all three. In 2011 it was a 31-14 loss at the Giants. In 2012 and ’13 it would be late game turnovers that doomed the Cowboys. Dallas lost 28-18 at Washington in 2012 with the major gaffe being a fourth-quarter interception by Romo in the closing minutes that lead to a clinching touchdown by the Redskins. In 2013, it was an interception thrown by Cowboys’ backup quarterback Kyle Orton in the late stages that enabled Philadelphia to win 24-22. These “teases” by Dallas have prompted many to state that the window is closing for the Cowboys to win a Super Bowl with Romo and their core players. Of course a healthy Romo puts Dallas in a better position to do this.
Which brings us back to the soon-to-be 2016 season.
Unfortunately for Cowboys’ fans, Romo is on the shelf again with a broken bone in his back. According to the team’s website, he will miss anywhere from six to ten weeks and he is being evaluated to be placed on short-term injured reserve which would mean he would miss the first eight weeks of the season. The team’s bye week is week seven so Romo would miss seven games. The plus is that this injury happened in the preseason and 2.5 weeks before the start of the regular season. What, if any, time this allows Romo to get a jump on his rehab and healing might provide him with a chance to return sooner than expected. Based on his toughness over the years, it is fair to say that Romo will be highly motivated to return to play this season. According to 24-7 Sports, his latest back injury might be something that he can play with in a managed pain approach with the use of padding and an epidural injection. Keep an eye on this story as it develops.
What do we take from all of Romo’s injuries and the misery it has caused him and Dallas? That is up to the viewer and what one perceives. The bottom line though is that Romo has proven himself to be a competitor, a leader, and someone who epitomizes toughness. Take for example his aforementioned performance in the win at San Francisco in 2011.
Want more? How about Romo’s late game heroics at Washington in 2013. Facing a must-win to stay alive for the playoffs, Romo limped his way around on a herniated disk in his back during a final drive that culminated with him finding DeMarco Murray for a game-winning touchdown pass in a 24-23 win.
He is the unquestioned leader of the Cowboys and the face of the franchise. When you play quarterback for Dallas, you are always held to a higher standard. It is like playing centerfield for the New York Yankees or coaching Notre Dame football. The quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys includes legends like Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, and Troy Aikman. Crème de’ la crème.
Yet Romo’s critics cite the end results of the Cowboys’ seasons as keeping him from being on par with these legendary Dallas quarterbacks and other legendary pro signal callers. They point to Romo’s late game miscues such as his botched hold of a snap for a likely game-winning field goal in a 21-20 wild card playoff loss in Seattle following the 2006 season. Or his costly interceptions such as the one that lead to a clinching touchdown by Washington in the 2012 regular season finale in a game that would of clinched the division title for the Cowboys and put them in the playoffs with a win. Or his late interception in the closing minutes that lead to the decisive points in a 51-48 home loss to Denver in October of 2013. Other critics bring up his lousy career playoff record of 2-4. Then there is his career record of 20-27 as a starter in December and January games.
One way or the other, Romo has his detractors. While these statistics are valid reasons that keep Romo from being labeled as an elite quarterback, he is still a very good one. Although he has committed many gaffes, he has also succeeded in big games and in the clutch. In the 2015 season opener, Romo threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten with seven seconds left as Dallas beat the Giants 27-26. The scoring play capped a 6-play 72 yard drive in 1:22 as Romo got the Cowboys into the end zone without any timeouts. Romo was also without the services of all-pro wide receiver Dez Bryant on the game-winning drive as he had suffered a broken bone in his right foot earlier in the game and would not return for seven weeks. Bryant played in only nine games in 2015. Or how about Romo’s 2011 season when he guided Dallas to four fourth-quarter come-from-behind wins, including twice
against the arch-rival Redskins. Then there was the game-winning drive that Romo lead in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs of 2014 when he and the Cowboys overcame a 17-7 halftime deficit against Detroit. Romo connected with Terrance Williams on an eight-yard touchdown pass enabling Dallas to take its’ first lead of the game, 24-20 which was the final score.
Romo probably needs to produce more of these kinds of performances in order to alter perception in his favor by media, analysts, and the fans.
Regardless of that, one thing is for certain. Romo has endured the test of time. He has proved his toughness by coming back from all his injuries and late-game miscues. He has played with pain and he has rehabbed from pain to play again. While the location and nature of his injuries has left him fragile in his later years, no one should question his toughness and character. Although the sun is setting on Romo’s career, it has also shined the brightest – at times – when he has been hurt. Adversity, even in extreme cases of physical injury, sometimes brings out the best in pro athletes.