How Bad Is Tony Romo In The Clutch?

  • Matt Rudnitsky

I’m gonna pull a reverse-mainstrecontam-media narrative beating here, and make a negative headline about Tony Romo in the clutch… right after he won a must-win game over the Washington Potato Skins, on a fourth down with about a minute to go.

There are two main factions of opinions on Tony Romo. They are:

1. Tony Romo is a bad quarterback, because he sucks “in the clutch.”

(90% of people belong to this faction.)

2. Tony Romo is a great quarterback who is really good in the fourth quarter; he’s just had some really unlucky, highly-visible fuckups.

I learned to use supporting evidence in middle school, so don’t just take me at my word. Here’s what happens when you search “Tony Romo” in Bing image search. (Don’t ask why I was using Bing. It’s been a rough week.)

See? People think Tony Romo sucks, and they like his taste in women. They don’t enjoy watching him throw balls to receivers or cornerbacks or anyone but Jessica Simpson (that’s a direct analogy… Tony used to throw his balls at Jessica; she found it kinky).

Sadly, both of these opinions are wrong. Group No. 1 oversimplifies things, and Group No. 2 is just trying to be all contrarian and shit. As with many things in life, the truth is in between the two extreme opinions. Fortunately, ESPN Stats & Info (which belongs to the same company as “First Take,” which proliferates these narratives), set things straight with some cool stats. You should check out the entire piece, but here’s the gist.

(Note: These stats are from Oct. 7, right after Romo threw a game-killing interception as the Dalls Cowboys lost 51-48 to the Broncos. Since then, he’s led three game-winning drives — against the Giants and Vikings… and then yesterday against the Potato Skins, and choked one game away — two weeks ago vs. the Packers. He also led what should’ve been a game-winning drive with a minute to go against the Lions… until the defense choked that one away.)

First, the good.

Since he entered the league, Romo has consistently put up some of the best numbers in the NFL.

Romo has 19 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, tied for fifth-most since he took over the starting job in 2006. He has a career 68.7 QBR in the 4th quarter – only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers are better since 2006.

Conclusion: very good overall, very good in the fourth quarter, it seems.

Now, the bad.

Romo’s lone interception Sunday was the 23rd fourth-quarter interception of his career. The Cowboys have lost the last eight games in which Romo has thrown a fourth-quarter interception, with six of those losses coming by seven points or fewer.

Since 2010, Romo’s Total QBR in the first 12 minutes of the fourth quarter/OT is 80. That’s second-best in the NFL behind Peyton Manning. However, his QBR drops to a below-average 44 in the game’s final three minutes.

(Of course, QBR is a highly imperfect stat… but it gives us a good idea of general trends.)

So, it’s not a “myth” that Romo struggles with the game on the line. He does.

But, look who’s right behind him: Tom Brady. Interceptions are highly-luck-based… a bad bounce here or there and it could be Brady at the top of the list… and a couple of good bounces… over the course of an entire career, and Romo might not even appear on that graphic. He’s a talented, aggressive quarterback who plays in a lot of close games due to a typically-subpar defense, and he fucks up sometimes. A bit more than most… but a lot of it is just bad luck. He’s been in a lot of these situations. Shit happens.

As expected, the answer lies between the extremes. Tony Romo is a very good quarterback who has led improbable comebacks many times. But he also fucks up a lot. He’s not incapable of winning a Super Bowl, but he may never win one. Especially with a defense like this. It doesn’t need to be so dramatic.