Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones considered Tony Romo's performance in the season opener "one of the best games I've ever seen him play" despite two critical turnovers late in the loss to the New York Jets.
Romo accepted the blame for the loss -- the first in franchise history after leading by 14 points in the fourth quarter -- after losing a fumble at the Jets' 2-yard line and throwing an interception that set up the game-winning field goal.
While disappointed by the finish, Jones was encouraged by watching the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback pass for 342 yards and two touchdowns against one of the league's elite defenses.
"This may draw a little criticism, but I thought Tony played one of the best games I've ever seen him play," Jones said during a Tuesday appearance on KRLD-FM, the team's flagship station. "You can make a big case that the way he played for three quarters was how we got there at the end and looked like for sure we were going to get the win. But he played outstanding."
The Cowboys have lost seven of Romo's last eight starts, including a 2009 divisional playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, but Jones pointed to Romo's record as reason for the Cowboys' commitment to him as a franchise quarterback. Romo is 40-26 as a starter, but that includes only one win in four playoff games.
That might not be good enough for the fan base of a team that won Super Bowls with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. It is, however, enough to make the owner/general manager believe Romo gives the Cowboys a chance of reaching that standard.
"He's a winner," Jones said. "We are going to rise and fall based on what Tony Romo's about over the next several years, and I'm excited about that. We've got someone here that can, if we can get some other things together, we can have a team that gets us in position to have a shot."
Jones' comments come on the heels of widespread strong support for Romo in the Cowboys' locker room. Linebacker Keith Brooking and wide receiver Dez Bryant went so far as to say that they'd take Romo over any other quarterback in the NFL.
"This isn't to pat him on the back or make him try to play better," said Jones, who made repeated references to Romo having thick skin. "I just want everyone to know how much confidence we have in his ability to win ballgames for us. He's one of the two or three best assets that we've got to get where we want to go."
Jones scoffed at the perception that Romo isn't a clutch performer, saying he "loves pressure." Jones acknowledged that Romo has a rap for "trying to make the best play he can instead of doing the kinds of things that don't lose football games," but he called the quarterback a competitor who has developed an outstanding command for playing the game's most complicated position.
"There's a lot going on at that position," Jones said. "When you get somebody who can really master it, it's something special. He's close."
Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.