Since beginning the season 2-0, the Dallas Cowboys fell to the bottom of the NFC standings, dropping seven consecutive games. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel during Week 11 — in the form of their returning Pro-Bowl quarterback Tony Romo. He led the Cowboys to a win against the Miami Dolphins, 24-14.
Many of the Cowboys’ offensive struggles over the last two months were directly linked to Romo’s absence, who was sidelined since Week 2 with a broken collarbone. In his place, the Cowboys relied upon the likes of Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel to manage the tide, playing for the most part without Dez Bryant, who also missed several weeks due to a fractured foot.
As a result, Dallas received porous play from both Weeden and Cassel, producing the league’s 26th-ranked passing attack with the third-fewest touchdown passes (nine). They ranked 19th in passer rating (86.8) with the team averaging just 18.4 points per game. It wasn’t an entirely bad stretch for the Cowboys as they may have found an answer in their running game with Darren McFadden putting together two 100-yard rushing performances in his four starts this season.
That said, outside of McFadden’s recent surge and Bryant’s return, there hasn’t been much for Cowboys fans to be excited about. This isn’t suggesting that Romo is the savior and solution to all the team’s problems, but his presence was certainly felt — he threw for 227 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his return. Even if he shows some rust as he gets his footing back, his play is a significant upgrade from what the team received from Weeden and Cassel.
Remember, Romo is just one season removed from having arguably his best year, when he threw 34 touchdown passes while tying a career-low nine interceptions in 15 games played. He was the orchestrator of the league’s seventh-best offense last season, which put up 29.2 points per game. Yes, he did get plenty of help from a much-improved offensive line and had a reliable running game from DeMarco Murray, but there’s no denying that Romo proved he’s still one of the game’s best quarterbacks.
His return provides a huge boost to the players around him. He once again makes Bryant and tight end Jason Witten — although the latter player is dealing with injuries — both lethal options in the passing game. McFadden has more room to operate as teams will load the box up less frequently, and the Cowboys now have a true passing attack with Romo at the offensive helm once more.
Another benefactor of Romo’s return is the defense, who should see less time on the field. The Cowboys’ defense has been depleted by injuries along the defensive line and secondary, but they have stayed in the middle of the pack ranking 16th in the league. Their defense is not suddenly going to become a dominant force, but with a viable offense on the field it eases the pressure off them to keep the team going on a weekly basis.
Again, Romo does not immediately makes the Cowboys an offensive juggernaut, but he gives them a chance to compete. What’s crazy about this entire scenario is that despite sitting in last place in the NFC East, Dallas is just two games behind the division-leading New York Giants, who enter their Week 11 bye at a 5-5 record. That said, the Coyboys’ remaining schedule poses a bit of a challenge. They will play against teams that are still vying for playoff spots, with matchups against the Carolina Panthers, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and a pair of meetings with the Washington Redskins.
Romo and the Cowboys know that the margin for error is extremely small; one loss could erase their hopes of making the playoff. Although they will need plenty of things to fall in their favor, Dallas has the right quarterback under center who gives them the best chance to succeed.