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Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is taking most of the heat for his team's Monday night loss to the Chicago Bears, but is the meltdown really all his fault? We put Romo on trial to find out.
The courtroom at Cowboys Stadium is exactly like you imagined it to be. Plush. Judge Jerry sits in a burgundy leather chair with something shiny and expensive inlaid around the Cowboys star on the back of the chair. It looked like the bench and counsel tables were all mahogany.
Officially, it seats 500. There are 200 fold down seats in the bottom section, behind the official machinations required of a court, even in Texas and even at this place. The balcony seats are the same, but the aisles are a little narrower, the cheap seats. For the trial of Tony Romo they had a series of rickety bleachers stuffed into the spaces behind the seats. There were at least 700 people packed in here, all grumbling, hungry for blood, someone's blood.
The crowd stood when Judge Jerry walked into the room, angry but still respectful of the court. They sat as soon as he took his place, the rumble getting just a little louder in the moment between being seated and called to order.
Five interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns by the Chicago defense ... on Monday Night Football. The Blue Star had been tarnished, sullied by a bunch of North Shore elitists. Cowboys fans seethed. They suffered through the indignity of Rick Perry on the national stage, but the state's only quarterback that matters throwing five interceptions in primetime was another matter entirely.
The order of the universe in Texas was out of whack. Something had to right it.
The people's attorney stood up, queued up a video and walked over to Romo, sitting on the witness stand.
"Do you recall throwing this interception at the 2:46 mark in the second quarter, on third-and-9 from your own 21-yard line?" he asked Romo.
"Is it true that you did threw this interception immediately after fumbling the ball on second down?"
"Yes, but I ..."
"Thank you, Mr. Romo."
The crowd stirred, and one temper finally boiled over from the seats behind the plaintiff's table.
The booming voice erupting in the gallery belonged to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
"I DID MY GODDAMN JOB," Ryan belted out from peanut gallery.
Judge Jerry banged his gavel, the crowd stirred and a pack of four bailiffs immediately appeared in the stands. It took every ounce of strength all four of them had to drag the hulking coach out of the seats and into the hallway. Ryan kept on bellowing about his defense and something about a dilettante quarterback.
Ryan's defense has done its job, for the first half anyway. The defense unraveled on the Bears' fifth offensive play of the second half, when Jay Cutler threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Devin Hester, his first receiving touchdown of the season. At that point, the meltdown in Dallas was total and complete. To borrow from Jon Gruden, who spent the pregame sniffing crazy glue in the Bud Light party suite with an unidentified man in a Giants hat, it was a Texas-sized failure.
The courtroom got quiet again, the defense approached Romo. They asked him about Dez Bryant, and the quarterback said that he was anticipating his receiver to be there.
"So you're saying he ran the wrong route," the defense counsel asked.
"It bounced off his hands," Romo said.
Here's where things got tough for Romo. He started to sweat as soon as the video player brought up the still image of a collapsed pocket and the quarterback in the first stride of a scramble forward. The people's counsel stepped forward confidently, knowing this is where he would deliver the killing blow, despite the fact that he had two more interceptions to review.
He asked about Romo's decision on the play. The quarterback explained that he was merely trying to get the ball to Jason Witten, his tight end, making the whole thing sound far more heroic than it really was. The "just trying to do my job" defense is always the last refuge of the scoundrel.
The explanation turned into a stutter when asked about switching the ball from hand to hand. If he could do that, he just as easily take the sack, right? It was only second down. They had another chance, would have had another chance.
Romo blubbered. He rolled his eyes. He did everything he could do swallow the raw emotion of being forced to watch himself give away a football game on tape. Coach Garrett would make him watch the tape soon enough, why did he have to see it now and in this place?
The trial continued, though it probably should have ended after they reviewed the pick by Lance Briggs, but fans wanted justice. The humiliation continued.
The crowd saw clips of ESPN's SportsCenter crew reading tweets about the game from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The lawyers played more clips of Gruden, his crazed eyes staring knowingly at the crowded courtroom. Things got really ugly when fan testimony started.
From Blogging the Boys, SB Nation's Cowboys blog:
Where to begin? Forget that... can someone make it stop? The final score might have been 34-18, but I'm not sure quarterback Tony Romo is finished throwing interceptions to the Bears defense. From the sideline; after being removed for Kyle Orton.
The Cowboys completely undressed themselves on national television once again, and there was little to console oneself with as they head into the bye week with a multitude of question marks.
There was more.
Tony Romo would be a much better quarterback if he was Tom Brady.— Travon Free (@Travon) October 2, 2012
Adam Sandler's recent movies > Tony Romo— Rodrigo Haro (@RodrigoH80) October 2, 2012
That one felt kind of unfair, even to an impartial observer.
As sure as the sun rising, Colin Cowherd is all about defending Tony Romo.— Matt Privett (@mattprivett) October 2, 2012
the truth about the crowd might be that out of town Dallas fans are too fed up with team to pony up and travel.— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) October 2, 2012
The defense slipped one of their own into the mix.
Here's what I liked about Romo's 5-pick (1 maybe a fumble) game: He didn't care about stats. He just competed, even if you didn't like it.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) October 2, 2012
Finally it was Romo's turn to speak, to defend the indefensible. For the first time since the trial began, his well-tailored suit look uncomfortable, his collar squeezing his neckline like a noose.
"It's going to sit there in your stomach and just eat at you. In different situations out there where you're trying to do too much and help out different areas, I think that is going to catch up to you at some point in the National Football League. I'm going to have to reassess a couple of things that are happening and make sure that they don't happen again."
The prosecution finished an interception ago. Now the defense rested, and Judge Jerry went to his chambers to consider the case before him.
Twelve angry men and women returned hours later with no decision, a hung jury. There was always one person in every group willing to defend Tony Romo to the bitter end, even in a jury culled from Cowboys fans in the greater Dallas metro area.
But juries matter only a little in Jerry's court room, tucked into a corner of his Babylonian temple of football.
Romo was off the hook. The courtroom started to come unglued, the shocked mutters of the crowd were punctuated by the sound of holsters being unsnapped. Judge Jerry cleared his throat and started to speak.
"Individually I just wanted to say that I could say, I've been buried nine feet under before with no hope and got to see some sunshine and came out and that's what you got to do. Nobody is more disappointed for our fans than these players. Nobody is more disappointed than Tony (Romo), there's no question about it. We'll get in here and look and see how we can play better. I am surprised.
"We've seen this team play well and it can play a lot better.
"We've got a long way to go, but this isn't the way I want to get started. Nobody does, nobody in this dressing room does. I'm glad we got the time off we got. This will give us time to reassess and look in the mirror."
The Cowboys have Kyle Orton, who straddles the gray area between backup and viable starter, waiting in the wings should Romo fall too far, but Jones' larger message, one of a team failing in unison, is on the money.
I get the distinct feeling we'll be back here soon enough.