High 5: Can Tony Romo finish strong?

The last in ESPNDallas.com's five-part series looking at factors that must go Dallas’ way in a big way for the Cowboys to be contenders this season.

It’s simplistic and silly to just slap the choker label on Tony Romo.

ColdHardFootballFacts.com’s Scott Kacsmar provides all sorts of statistical ammo to illustrate just how unfair and inaccurate it is to assume that Romo is incapable of performing in the clutch. The most impressive number: Romo’s passer rating in fourth quarters and overtime (100.7) is the highest among all quarterbacks since 2000.

Of course, that’s not the most commonly cited stat when it comes to Romo. He might as well replace the No. 9 on his jersey with 1-6, his record in win-or-go-home games.

Those losses obviously aren’t all on the quarterback. The holder, who just happened to be Romo, cost the Cowboys in the 2006 playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks. Pathetic offensive line play made Romo’s life miserable – and winning impossible – in the 2008 Philly Flop and the blowout loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the 2009 playoffs. The defense was dreadful in the de facto 2011 NFC East title game against the New York Giants.

But Romo has consistently failed to play up to his standard with the season at stake. That was especially true with a chance to win the NFC East title in last year’s regular-season finale, when his three interceptions were the primary reason the Cowboys lost to the Washington Redskins.

Romo’s passer rating in those seven win-or-go-home games: 77.0.

To put that passer rating in perspective, it would have ranked 26th in the NFL last season. It’s 18.6 points lower than his career passer rating of 95.6, which ranks fifth all-time, behind only Aaron Rodgers, Steve Young, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

There are examples of Romo performing well in big games. He was 23-of-35 for 244 yards and two touchdowns in his lone playoff win. In 2007, with the NFC’s top seed at stake and Romo’s boyhood idol Brett Favre on the other sideline, Romo was spectacular, throwing for 309 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Cowboys to a win. He threw for 312 yards and a touchdown in a turnover-free performance to help the Cowboys upset the previously undefeated Saints in December 2009.

For a variety of reasons, Romo just hasn’t been good enough often enough with the season on the line. If that trend ends this year, anything is possible for the Cowboys.