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Tony Romo has thrown 14 touchdowns and three interceptions, and has completed over 70 percent of his passes this season. (AP)
Chip Kelly didn’t consider the question for very long. It wasn’t necessary. He knew exactly what he thought about the topic, and he immediately launched into his answer.
“If you're a student of the game, a student of quarterback play, it's really -- you know, when you watch him play the position, it's impressive,” Kelly said.
Kelly was talking about Tony Romo. There was more -- quite a lot more, the response equal parts evaluation and appreciation.
“I think he's got a great feel for how to play quarterback,” Kelly continued. “He's got a lot of innate ability in the pocket. He's extremely accurate when he throws, but he also has an uncanny ability just to keep plays alive.
“I think how he moves within the pocket, there's a couple guys that you look at them and say, hey, that guy has got great feet but he does. He's similar to a Tom Brady in that fashion where they are always moving, they always just put themselves in the right position to make the throw at the right time.”
Maybe you read that and laugh or scoff or both. Maybe you think of Romo and immediately remember the staggering mistakes -- the botched play as a holder against Seattle in 2007, the awful (even pitiable) interception against Washington last season, the ill-timed pick that led to a crushing defeat to Denver this year. That’s all part of Romo’s career.
But if you think of him as that and nothing more -- as a late-game gaffe waiting to sink the Cowboys and amuse their detractors -- you willfully ignore the ability and the numbers and his undeniable place among the best quarterbacks in the NFL. When the 3-3 Cowboys clash with the 3-3 Eagles for first place in the NFC East on Sunday, Dallas will be led by one of the premiere signal callers in the league. Whatever you think of Romo, the stats are hard to deny.
Romo has completed 70.2 percent of his passes this year (third in the NFL) for 1,693 yards (seventh), and 14 touchdowns (tied for second). His 108.6 quarterback rating is third-best, and it’s just one-tenth of a point behind second-place Philip Rivers.
But the interceptions, you cry. The mistakes, you say. He makes too many of them, you declare. He has in the past, but he hasn’t so far this year. Romo has thrown three picks this season; 24 other quarterbacks have thrown more, including Brady, Rivers, Robert Griffin III, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Eli Manning.
“I think one of the biggest things that Romo does is he extends the play,” Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “If the initial play is not there, like a couple of quarterbacks in the league, the [Ben] Roethlisbergers, they don't necessarily run to run, they run to extend the play and the receivers do a great job of, when it breaks down, coming back to the ball, finding the open area.”
Perhaps you’re still not convinced. Perhaps comparing Romo to Brady (as Kelly did) or Romo to Roethlisberger (as Davis did) is too much for you -- a leap too far across a gap of logic too wide. Except, again, consider the numbers and the company they put Romo in: Over the last three years, Romo has a 95.7 quarterback rating. Only Rodgers, Brady, Brees, and Peyton Manning have been better. That’s it. That’s the list. It’s a good one to be on.
“More than anything, you just keep getting better playing the position,” said Romo, who has appeared in parts of 14 games against the Eagles, completing 60.8 percent of his passes for 2,508 yards, 16 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, an 88.2 quarterback rating and an 8-6 record. “You start to understand what defenses are going to do and you just attack where they’re weak. If you do that repeatedly over time, you’re going to give them trouble. I think that’s all you’re trying to do as a quarterback.”
Years ago, when Romo was a little known third-string backup trying to stick in Dallas, he got a chance to play because of various injuries. He played well -- well enough that people noticed and the Cowboys' then-head coach, Bill Parcells, was forced to talk a lot about his quarterback. Or at least Parcells was asked about his quarterback a lot and then responded in the way only Parcells could or would.
“Don’t put him in Canton just yet,” Parcells once quipped.
Wonder what Parcells would say now.