IRVING, Texas -- After the first training camp practice, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo sat on the back side of a television set and said something that was eyebrow-raising just for the timing of it.
"I feel personally like I've just started to come into the player that I wanted to be six, seven years ago," Romo said then. "I think -- and I've said it before -- but I think over the course of the next four or five years, you'll see the best version of me that I've had throughout my career.”
He had just one full practice after December back surgery. He turned 34 in April. He already had started 108 games for the Cowboys.
In his seven-plus seasons as the Cowboys' starter, Romo put up staggering numbers. He became the franchise’s all-time leader in touchdowns, 3,000-yard seasons, 300-yard games and quarterback rating. He played in three Pro Bowls. He won more than he lost, although since 2010 his record was 25-28 entering this season.
The narrative was set in stone: He could compile stats, but he would make too many mistakes to keep a team from winning big.
But here he was in Oxnard, California, on July 25 saying the best version of himself will come out in the next four or five years at an age when quarterbacks -- at least those not named Peyton Manning and Tom Brady -- start to slow at least a little.
After so much time, he was who he was.
Or so everybody thought.
After Romo completed 17 of 23 passes for 279 yards with three touchdowns and one interception against the New York Giants, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said that could have been Romo’s best game.
An ESPN Dallas Hot Button question last week asked if this was the best season Romo has had. Fifty-eight percent of those who responded said yes.
Coach Jason Garrett has seen all but 10 of Romo’s starts for the Cowboys. He would never list Romo’s best games in order, but the quarterback’s performance against the Giants was impressive.
“His pocket presence was outstanding, his efficiency and his playmaking ability in the red zone, cashing in on drives was really something else, got everybody involved,” Garrett said. “I thought he did a really good job of seeing the defense and seeing what they were trying to do and throwing to the right guy. Dez [Bryant] got a lot of attention throughout the game. [Jason] Witten got a lot of attention throughout the game. So some of the complementary players had some opportunities and he gave them chances to make plays and they certainly took advantage of them.”
Romo leads the NFL in completion percentage (69.2). He is fourth in quarterback rating (104.7). He is fourth in yards per attempt (8.4). He is fifth in touchdowns (14). He is 10th in yards (1,789).
For years the Cowboys' offense has been solely about Romo. Now it’s about the running game and balance -- and Romo. Garrett said there is less of a burden on Romo this year than in the past. Romo did not like that word, nor did he like it when he was asked if his job is easier this year.
“It’s never easy,” Romo said. “I think playing quarterback in the National Football League is always a fun grind that you continually know when you let up, you can be exposed. I don’t think that’s the term I would use, but I do think anytime you have a running game, it’s going to benefit everybody.”
But the change in offensive style has been good for Romo and has allowed him to play the best football of his career.
So maybe his statement last July will prove to be correct.