Tony Romo the answer to a question the Dallas Cowboys might not need to ask: NFL Sunday takeaways

The Dallas Cowboys are America’s most scrutinised sports franchise, so they’re used to questions about their quarterback. Here’s this year’s version, just in time to temper the good will of a surprising 4-1 start and throw in some uncertainty: Is Tony Romo still QB1?

Injured quarterback Tony Romo talks to Jason Witten during Week 4 of the 2016 NFL season. Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
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The Dallas Cowboys are America’s most scrutinised sports franchise, so they’re used to questions about their quarterback. Here’s this year’s version, just in time to temper the good will of a surprising 4-1 start and throw in some uncertainty:

Is Tony Romo still QB1?

Instead of resting on the laurels of how well Romo’s replacement has played, we have to ask what’s next. Jerry Jones did his best to nip the potential controversy in the bud after Sunday’s latest impressive Dallas win, 28-14 over the reeling Cincinnati Bengals.

That’s that, right? In no uncertain terms, Romo is still the team’s starter, and he’ll regain his place under centre when he’s healthy enough to do so, which is still likely a few weeks away. So says Jones, and so it goes.

But is that the right answer? Should Romo be the starter — not just because of the impressive play of rookie Dak Prescott, but because it might be a mercy to keep the dangerously injury-prone Romo from taking more big hits?

For once, the obvious, inevitable questions surrounding the Cowboys and their quarterback are worth asking.

Prescott deserves credit for even making it an issue, because it otherwise wouldn't be. Romo is a four-time Pro Bowler and a future Hall of Famer, is the Cowboys' all-time leading passer in yards and touchdowns, and has the third highest QB Rating ever, higher than contemporaries Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

But he’s only 2-4 in the post-season. With five Super Bowls and a tradition of winning quarterbacks, the Cowboys expect a bit more.

Still, Romo is mostly appreciated by a sometimes-fickle fan base. That, and not his stats, might be his biggest accomplishment. There have been many lean years for the Cowboys since the halcyon days of the 90s, but few times when you could question the quarterback position since Romo took over in 2006.

Romo is 36, and his injuries the past few years have been numerous and increasingly scary. He hasn't played a full, 16-game slate since 2012, and last year only played in four games. The latest injury, a fractured vertebra suffered in the pre-season, seemed to foretell yet another Super Bowl-less year for the demanding Jones and the Cowboys. Now it looks like not only is Romo's replacement already on the roster in Prescott — who in Romo's stead has led the team to four straight wins while playing interception-free football — but the Super Bowl ambitions might actually be brighter with the new guy.

Jones — an often middling, micromanaging megalomaniac who has long been criticised for not hiring a specialised general manager for the team — deserves credit for not panicking and letting his rookies play. Last year's parade of has-beens (Matt Cassell) and never-weres (Brandon Weeden) to replace Romo led the team to a 4-12 record (Romo won three of those games). With the high draft pick from that putrid record, they drafted running back Ezekiel Elliott, another brilliant rookie who leads the league in rushing by a lot. Prescott was taken in the fourth round, and appears to be an absolute gem. It's early, but Jones appears to have nailed the 2015 NFL Draft.

Another hit and Romo’s career could be over, if it shouldn’t be already. Not only that, but why would Dallas risk replacing the hot hand in Prescott when the team is playing so well?

The obvious answer to the obvious question is that Prescott is, at the end of the day, a rookie, and that the carriage will inevitably turn to a pumpkin. Yet because of that rookie, this Cowboys team has higher ambitions than the 4-1 start Presctott has led them to. It’s a dilemma that would seem to have two good answers — a luxury most teams would kill for — but anything short of a title, and Jones made the wrong decision.

In the play-offs, should the Cowboys get there, Romo absolutely deserves his chance to be their quarterback. Jones appears willing to give him that shot, and so far this season, the owner/general manager/autocrat deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Buckled Broncos

Looking at the box score from the Atlanta Falcons’ shutdown of the Denver Broncos would suggest that Atlanta should be the new Super Bowl favourites. It’s more rational to excuse Denver for one bad game, and put the onus on a bad, overly conservative offensive game plan from Gary Kubiak.

The Broncos’ coach has done a great job since taking over the team last year, such that it seems he doesn’t get enough credit for the team’s Super Bowl win. But he laid an egg on Sunday, allowing a very bad Atlanta defence to shut down his rookie backup quarterback Paxton Lynch, who was thrown into duty for an injured Trevor Siemian.

Lynch clearly wasn’t ready, but his coaches did him few favours. Atlanta’s offence showed up to Denver and made the Broncos’ league-best defence look worse than any team has in a while, and that’s what Atlanta’s offence is going to do. But the Falcons’ defence didn’t suddenly figure out how to rush the passer in one week. The Broncos offence seemed unprepared, used a vanilla attack and didn’t give Lynch much to work with.

Perhaps incidentally, Kubiak was hospitalised after the game with flu-like symptoms, which might explain the lax preparation. He has certainly earned one bad game, sick or not. But it's the second time in his head-coaching career he's had to be hospitalised on an NFL game day.

NFL head coaches work 80-hour weeks regularly, which would put the best of us on our backs. Let’s hope the job Kubiak is so good at isn’t a cause for bad health.

Southbound and down

If you had to pick the four NFL coaches most likely to lose their jobs, it might be the four coaches in the AFC South, where it looks like eight or nine wins might be enough to win the division.

The Texans were blown out by Minnesota (the lone remaining unbeaten team) to fall to 3-2, still good enough for first place. The Colts are right behind at 2-3, as are the feisty but mostly limp Titans. Bill O’Brien, Chuck Pagano and Mike Mularkey, respectively, could all be sacked short of a play-off berth. The Jaguars are lingering at 1-3, and likely saved the much-maligned Gus Bradley’s job with a win over the Colts in London before their Week 5 bye.

None of the four have inspired much confidence, yet all still have a shot at the play-offs if not Super Bowl ambitions. As a fan, this is the point where you’d rather just bottom out, fire the guy not getting the job done and hope for a franchise-altering player in the draft. Instead, all four teams will adorably try to win each week with Super Bowl dreams in their heads, because the play-offs are still in reach.

The AFC South: competitive purgatory.

Play of the week

Sunday was short on eye-popping performances or highlights, but it’s worth pointing out what was easily the weirdest and most pivotal play of the day.

Mosley picks off Cousins.
Wants the Pick-6.
Stretches for the TD.

And... FUMBLE.
It's 17-yard gain for WAS. Wow. https://t.co/zUYNUQG9vO

Baltimore’s CJ Mosley intercepted Kirk Cousins, returned to the goal line for a pick-six, only to fumble it out of bounds through the end zone for a touchback. Mosley not only didn’t score, and he not only gave Washington the ball back, but the Cousins pick resulted in a 17-yard gain and a first down.

Baltimore never scored in the second half and lost by six. The pick-six that wasn’t saved the game for Washington.

Stat of the week

The biggest benefactor of the Broncos’ bad day was a Falcons defender who sorely needed it: second-year pass-rusher Vic Beasley.

Falcons were T-Last in NFL with 4 sacks through 4 weeks.

Atlanta has 4 sacks today, 3.5 by @VicBeasley3

Beasley: 5.0 sacks prior to today

That last number is for his whole career, not the season. If the Falcons do turn out to be decent on defence, it’ll be because something clicked with Beasley. Week 5 was a good start.

kjeffers@thenational.ae

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