When you think of a clutch quarterback, you might think of Joe Montana hitting Dwight Clark in the back of the endzone to propel the San Francisco 49ers over the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC title game. You might think of John Elway leading his Denver Broncos down the field to stick a dagger in the hearts of the Cleveland Browns and their fans. Or maybe you’d think of Steve Young firing a last-second bullet to Terrell Owens to give the 49ers a big playoff win over the Green Bay Packers.
The point is that you could comb through the NFL, past and present, and put together a long list of players who are amazing in the clutch—and Cowboys QB Tony Romo wouldn’t rank anywhere near the top of the list. Nor should he be, much to the chagrin of Romo loyalists.
Yet, NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks has Romo ranked as the sixth most clutch quarterback in the league today—an assessment that has Romo supporters applauding wildly, while those who employ a modicum of logic simply roll their eyes and shake their heads.
To be fair, Brooks was compiling his list of starting quarterbacks in the league today, so Romo had to be fit in somewhere. To be even more fair, Brooks applied simple statistics to make his determination. And from the standpoint of simple numbers, a simplistic yet compelling case can certainly be made to consider Romo one of the NFL’s most clutch performers. To make his case, Brooks cites Romo’s late-game numbers – a 69.6 completion percentage, 105.6 passer rating, and 11 fourth-quarter comeback wins over the past three seasons. Though Brooks does seem to conveniently downplay some of Romo’s bad decision-making, terrible incompletions, and even worse interceptions which cost the Cowboys some games along the way.
But that’s neither here nor there, we suppose.
While Romo has indeed compiled some impressive fourth quarter numbers, this is a case where statistics lie. Or at the very least, don’t tell the whole story. The reason some guys are considered to be great in the clutch has to do with the fact that when the game is on the line and it matters the most, some guys come through. And some guys, like Romo, just don’t. To underscore the point, ESPN’s Sportscenter sent out a Tweet which read:
“Tony Romo has 7 interceptions in losses with team tied or up by 1 possession in 4th quarter/OT, nearly twice as many as any QB since ’06.”
Given his 1-3 record in the postseason, as well as his repeated failures to win big games, it’s incredibly difficult to argue that when the lights are the brightest and the heat is on, Romo does anything but wilt. There is a long, very detailed record of Romo’s poor decision-making, poorer throws, and an inability to put Dallas over the top with the game hanging in the balance.
While it’s true that Romo has put up some very good numbers in the fourth quarter of games, the vast majority of those numbers came when there was no pressure and nothing on the line—not exactly the hallmark of a clutch QB. With three straight 8-8 seasons, a four-year playoff drought, and not getting Dallas anywhere near the Super Bowl during his tenure, it’s nearly impossible to logically argue that Romo is one of the NFL’s premier performers in the clutch.
There’s no question that under the right conditions, meaning no pressure, Romo is a talented QB. But he’s far from great and he’s far from clutch. With the game or season on the line, you would do far better with the likes of a Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, or even Andrew Luck under center for your squad.
Putting up what are essentially bloated and empty stats doesn’t make you a clutch QB. Putting up wins when the stakes are high does. And until Romo proves that he can indeed do that, he doesn’t even belong in the conversation, let alone the top 10.