ARLINGTON, Texas -- Detroit won this game, but Tony Romo lost it. Fans of either team, or neither team, have to agree with me on that one. The Lions roared back from a 24-point deficit to beat the Cowboys 34-30 on Sunday.
But only because Romo choked this game away.
You can't have one without the other. No gagging from Romo? No roaring from the Lions.
No gagging from Romo? No 4-0 start by the Lions, their best since 1980 and -- including their 4-0 finish to last season -- their first eight-game winning streak in 57 years.
No gagging from Romo? No heroics from Calvin Johnson, who scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, his fourth straight game with two TDs, tying Cris Carter's NFL record from 1995. The first touchdown was a 23-yard heave Matt Stafford threw up for grabs into triple coverage, trusting Johnson would grab it to pull the Lions within 30-24. The second was a 2-yarder Stafford threw up for grabs against single coverage,
trusting knowing Johnson would grab it for the winning points with 1 minute, 39 seconds left.
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No gagging from Romo? No heroics by the two Detroit defenders, linebacker Bobby Carpenter and cornerback Chris Houston, who returned Romo interceptions for touchdowns in a 4½-minute span that turned this game upside down. That third-quarter sequence was so crazy, Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh was feeling loopy. Well, he was feeling loopy anyway. Sensabaugh went into the locker room for testing after getting knocked dizzy. Before getting dinged in the helmet, Dallas led 27-3. After the testing stopped and Sensabaugh asked about the game, it was 27-17.
"No idea what happened," Sensabaugh told me.
Well, I said, Tony Romo ...
Sensabaugh stopped me with a look that said he knew exactly what happened, and he didn't need me to say it out loud. So I stopped and walked away, and nearly bumped into Romo himself. He was hurrying through the locker room, sipping from a bottle of Diet Coke, making eye contact with nobody -- and nobody was making eye contact with him, either. If this was baseball, you would have thought he was throwing a perfect game.
Instead, this was football. And that wasn't perfection.
"It sucks today," Romo said.
Yes it does. And yes he did, but only in the second half. In the first half, Romo was magical: 19 of 24 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. His passer rating was 128.3, his decision-making impeccable. With the Cowboys leading 14-0 after two Romo touchdown passes to Dez Bryant, he threw well short of the first-down marker on third-and-11 to get the Cowboys into field-goal position. The ensuing 41-yarder by Dan Bailey made the score 17-0.
Romo was patient again to end the half, taking what the defense gave him in a two-minute drill that saw him complete four straight short passes to move the Cowboys into chip-shot range for Bailey, whose 35-yarder made the score 20-3 at the half.
In the Dallas locker room, coach Jason Garrett reminded his players that the Lions were a resilient bunch, having rallied from a 20-point deficit the previous week to win at Minnesota. But the Lions didn't look resilient to start the third quarter, not when Romo's third touchdown of the game, a 1-yarder to tight end Jason Witten, made the score 27-3. It was over, or should have been.
"The turnover happened," Romo said.
That's one way of saying it. Another way? Romo happened. He threw a short sideline pass to his right, right at Carpenter, who was just sort of standing there at the Dallas 34. Carpenter's winding return ended in the end zone, and it was 27-10.
|The Lions are not only proving they are for real at 4-0, but they can rally in the second half. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson were good enough to do the rest. Huge win for this young team.|
|No matter the opponent or circumstance, blowing 24-point leads at home is inexcusable. And there is a huge difference between 3-1 and 2-2 heading into the bye. As good as Tony Romo was to get that 27-3 lead, his two interceptions returned for touchdowns sparked yet another Lions rally.|
|By Nick Eatman|
Detroit kicked off, and Romo happened again. He threw his fifth touchdown pass of the day, his second to the Lions, this one going for 56 yards to the cornerback, Houston. It was 27-17.
And now Detroit was playing like Detroit 2011, not Detroit 2008. These Lions are not those Lions, obviously, though for one half they played like the bad ol' days. Stafford was 9 of 23 in the first half for a Dan Orlovsky-like passer rating of 32.5. The running game produced 30 yards. It continued in the third quarter, when a bad kickoff by Jason Hanson went to 305-pound Cowboys defensive end Sean Lissemore, who was able to rumble 38 yards because, frankly, the Lions were done.
And then Romo happened. First the Carpenter pick-six, then the Houston pick-six. But once Romo happened, the Lions started roaring. These 2011 Lions are talented enough to have stomped another NFL team (Kansas City) by 45 points, and they are gritty enough to have rallied from a 20-point deficit last week (at Minnesota) to win in overtime, and on Sunday they showed both sides. Stafford, a Dallas schoolboy legend, threw for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the final 15½ minutes. Calvin Johnson was ruthless. Hanson kicked a 51-yard field goal with 4:22 left to get the Lions within 30-27.
And then, for good measure, Romo happened one more time.
In his defense he had some help, getting a curious -- no, ridiculous -- play call on the Cowboys' first play from scrimmage after the Hanson field goal. Leading by three points and needing to work the clock, the Cowboys called for their shaky quarterback to throw the ball on first down. Of course it was intercepted, a back-foot pass Romo threw so poorly that he couldn't get it over 5-foot-10 linebacker Stephen Tulloch.
"I wish I could have that throw back, and just throw it farther," Romo said.
The Lions had the ball at the Dallas 40 with 4:13 left, and soon they were inside the 5. That's when Frank Walker happened. On third-and-goal from the 4, the reserve Cowboys cornerback couldn't defend tight end Brandon Pettigrew legally and was whistled for holding. That gave Detroit a new set of downs, but Stafford needed just one to throw it to Johnson.
So Matt Stafford happened. Calvin Johnson happened. The 2011 Lions happened. They're 4-0 because they're a very good football team.
But also because Tony Romo happened. He happens a few times a year, as he did in the opener when his late interception -- right at Darrelle Revis -- allowed the Jets to kick the winning field goal in the final 30 seconds.
Romo happens, and even his best friend on the team has noticed.
"We believe in him," Witten said. "He's our guy and we'll fight through it just like what we saw in New York. We just need to eliminate this roller coaster of a ride."
Won't happen, Witten. Romo knows only one way, and that's the carnival way. And Dallas knows only one way, and that's the Romo way.
"We've got a lot of faith in Romo," owner Jerry Jones said. "However he goes, we'll go with Tony."
Sometimes they'll go up. Sometimes, down.