Tony Romo changes perceptions

SAN FRANCISCO -- While his teammates sprinted to celebrate Jesse Holley's 77-yard catch-and-run in overtime, Tony Romo mustered only a feeble fist pump as he gingerly walked the length of the field.

Sure, the play was great, but it couldn't take away the pain from the fractured rib he suffered on the game's third play.

One play after Holley's catch, Dan Bailey kicked a 19-yard field goal and somehow, some way, the Dallas Cowboys had rallied to beat the San Francisco 49ers, 27-24.


As much as last week's loss to the New York Jets' stung, the Cowboys' win over the 49ers felt so good after they rallied from deficits of 14-0, 21-14 and 24-14. All you had to do was look at the abundance of smiles and back-slapping hugs handed out among players, coaches and the front office execs in the locker room.

These Cowboys showed they could be the mentally tough team that plays through adversity and fights play after play that Jason Garrett has envisioned from the day owner Jerry Jones named him head coach last November.

If we're honest, none of us figured Romo would be the symbol of the Cowboys' mental and physical toughness.

After all, we're talking about Romo, the dude known for fourth-quarter meltdowns. We were reminded of that last week, when his fourth-quarter fumble and interception turned what should have been a sure win over the Jets into a loss.

He was rightfully criticized on sports-talk radio in Dallas-Fort Worth and nationally as well as the unforgiving world of social media.

None of that matters anymore.

Romo changed the perception folks had of him Sunday afternoon at Candlestick Park.


Romo showed toughness, poise, leadership and every other trait you'd ever want in a quarterback during the fourth quarter and overtime of the Cowboys' improbable win over the 49ers.

Romo completed 20 of 33 passes for 345 yards and a pair of touchdowns, although the injury made it difficult for him to breathe and even harder to call plays because he had to shout to be heard over the crowd noise.

Sensational is the only way to describe Romo's performance in the fourth quarter and overtime. He completed 12 of 15 passes for 201 yards and a touchdown in his last three drives.

Of course, Romo's end-of-the-game performance is also why he tends to drive us crazy on a regular basis. You see the talent, the charisma and the potential, then wonder why he has so many brain farts.

Romo is human, so he'll continue to make mistakes that have us occasionally questioning his sanity, but the discussion about his leadership skills and toughness have been rendered irrelevant.

No doubt, his teammates will follow him after that performance.

Jones compared Romo's performance to Emmitt Smith's 1993 season finale against the New York Giants. That's the game Smith, playing with a separated shoulder, rushed 32 times for 168 yards and caught 10 passes for 61 yards in an overtime win that clinched the NFC East title.

"It's really about a football player and a competitor," Garrett said. "He's one of the best competitors I've ever been around, and he just loves to play. I just knew at some point I was going to get a tap on my shoulder standing on the sideline."

Actually, Romo tried to sneak into the game to start the third quarter. When Jon Kitna was in the huddle, Romo showed up and said he was playing. Then, in an awkward moment, Romo left the field.

The reason: His painkillers hadn't kicked in yet, and the medical staff and Garrett didn't want him in the game yet.

Kitna played three series in the third quarter and threw two interceptions and a touchdown pass, pulling Dallas within 21-14 entering the fourth quarter.

Finally, Romo convinced Garrett to let him play.

"Tony said, 'At some point, I'm going to play with this. Why not now?'" Garrett said. "You never want to put a player out there when he's not going to be safe, but Tony managed it really well.

"A number of times he got hit afterward and he kept getting back up. I thought it was a great performance."

After the game, Romo downplayed his performance, claiming he wasn't any different than his teammates who fought through pain and injury to play.


One day, we're going to look back at this game and remember the day Romo changed part of his legacy.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.