A fourth-quarter Tony Romo interception brings out the hoots and howls from all quarters of the internet. The "choker" narrative comes out, fans dig in their heels and the hot takes fly. Sorting out what actually happened is a little harder to do.
Green Bay pulled ahead after Sam Shields picked off Romo with 2:58 left in the game's final frame. It was second-and-six. Dallas was sitting on a 36-31 lead. So what happened? Why was Romo passing the ball instead of handing it off to the running back?
Jason Garrett offered up an explanation after the game.
In presser, Jason Garrett throws Tony Romo under the bus: "It was a run call that he threw the ball on." #Cowboyscalamity— Sean Jensen (@seankjensen) December 16, 2013
Garrett on Romo's first INT: "I think he'll be the first one to tell you he probably should have run the ball in that situation."— gregg rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) December 16, 2013
It's unusual to hear a head coach offer such a candid assessment of what should have happened on the play. But it fits with what went down. Dallas had called a packaged play on that. Romo made the decision on the fly to throw the ball instead of giving it to his running back.
Let's stop it there for a moment. A packaged play isn't the same as calling a list of audibles at the line. Instead, it's a way of giving a quarterback several options of what to do on the fly, based on what a defense is giving them. What's made it so much more exciting in today's game, as Chris Brown explains, is that it includes both running and passing options for an offense.
Romo INT actually a packaged play: Was a called running play but Romo decided to throw, but then didn't pull trigger on slant. Watch OL— Smart Football (@smartfootball) December 16, 2013
Here's that play:
The Cowboys have a running back lined up in the backfield, directly behind him. The offensive line blocks for a runner.
I'll let Brown explain the next part:
In other words was Romo's option to hand off or try to throw slant backside. He chose slant but didn't throw it, then scramble and bad ball— Smart Football (@smartfootball) December 16, 2013
So instead of taking one of the two options on that play, options that are packaged into it, he tries to move the ball himself and make a throw on the run. Take another look at it from a wider angle:
That's Clay Matthews who comes it to hit Romo. The freelancing quarterback swirls around to make the throw, but his man his covered. Green Bay makes the pick.
The other offensive players on the field don't change what they're doing. They don't have to. That's the beauty of the packaged play, and that's where Romo got into trouble.
At that point, Romo's best bet was to to hang onto the ball and run or throw it away. It was only second-and-six. But he channeled his inner gunslinger instead.