Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tony Romo, and Human Nature

Tony Romo's post-game tears have surely endeared him to Cowboys fans everywhere. Jerry Jones should immediately sign him to a long term contract. Cowboys fans identify with him. He will sell tickets, and jerseys.

Here's the thing: Tony Romo did not lose the game. Not even close. Not in any universe in which rationality prevails. At worst, his muff had a slight effect on the Cowboys chances to win. At best, his muff gave the Cowboys a better chance to win - not a worse chance.

Bill Parcells should be indicted for poor strategy. He ought to have gone for a first down, instead of kicking:
  • Had the Cowboys made a first down - but no touchdown, the game would've been over. The Cowboys would've run down the clock, then kicked the winning FG. The FG would've been good. Romo's muff was one of those moments in time - when all the stars aligned just so. Those moments do not repeat themselves.
  • Had the Cowboys scored a TD, they would've enjoyed a 6 point lead.
  • Had the Cowboys failed to gain a 1st down, here would've been the situation(which actually did occur after Romo's muff):
Seattle gains the ball just outside their 1 yard line, 1:15 remaining, and Dallas in possession of three time outs. The sequence could have gone like this:
  • Run, timeout, 1:08 remains.
  • Run, timeout, 1:00 remains.
  • Run, timeout, 52 seconds remain.
  • Punt, Dallas gains possession approx. at Seattle's 45 yard line, 42 seconds remaining.
Dallas would've needed only a FG to win. Dallas would've been one first down away from being in FG range.

The Cowboys defense had an additional advantage: Seattle was operating from just outside their own one yard line, and a safety would've put the Cowboys ahead. Seattle's offensive options were affected - to the Cowboys' advantage.

Parcells' strategic thinking was flawed.

Had the Cowboys succeeded in making the FG, the Seahawks would've had 1:15 on the clock; needing only a FG to win the game; and facing a Dallas defense which could not pressure the QB, and which was riddled with wide open spaces in their secondary. Seattle would've had returning Super Bowl QB Matt Hasselbeck lining up under center. In that situation, I would've liked the Seahawks' chances better than the Cowboys' chances. Parcells screwed up.

The crucial play of that stage of the game was not Romo's muff, but rather Seattle's run from the 1 yard line to the 14 yard line. Its incredibly rare for a good defense to give up such a run in such a situation. In the Roger Staubach era, Cowboys' defenses would've stopped Seattle's offense, forced a punt, and Staubach would've won the game.

The 2006 Cowboys simply had a bad defense - period, and end of story. Yet Romo took the fall: nationally, locally, and forevermore. It's astounding to me - and worrisome, from a team and a leadership standpoint - that Dallas' defensive players allowed Romo to take all the blame in the postgame locker room. In my mind, and I'm serious about this: Romo's muff gave the Cowboys a better chance to win - not a worse chance.

Final Notes:

1. About late-game, seemingly catastrophic sports plays:

They feel horrific, yet they are actually just another play - out of hundreds of plays which make up a game. We emphasize them b/c: (a) we crave excitement, and (b) we crave conversational bonding with our friends. Both goals are aided by dramatizing and simplifying the action. The truth is more complicated.

Further, late game plays usually have less impact than we realize. The classic example is the Chicago Cubs fan who caught the foul ball against the Florida Marlins. There was one out in the 8th inning when he caught the foul ball.

A baseball fan/mathematician made an outstanding mathematical study of how the outcome odds were affected. If the Cubs had caught the ball, for the second out of the 8th inning, the Cubs would've had a 9% better chance of winning the game. As a coach, or a player, increasing your chances by 9% is huge. Still, it was only 9%. Over the final two innings, the Cubs contributed far more towards losing than did the fan.

2. On Romo's muff, there's a solid chance he made the first down before being tackled, yet the booth referee was simply too stunned to call for a review of the spot of the ball. Watch the replay, and compare the spot of the ball to the first down marker. Romo was within a few inches - either way - of making the first down. There's a solid chance he made it. Either way, though, the booth referee blew it by not calling for a review.

Also, watch Grammatica put a mini-block on the Seahawk who eventually tackles Romo. If Grammatica - who was making a team-first effort, had made the merest additional effort, Romo would've made the first down by a decisive margin. Victory and defeat are about inches.

3. I was disgusted by Parcells' post game interview. He feinted at being the good guy, then buried Romo in blame. Parcells has some Barry Switzer in him, insofar as he never takes responsibility for failure. Parcells' defense failed in the final 75 seconds. His handpicked, personally designed defense - procured at the cost of high draft pick after high draft pick - failed, badly. Parcells' clock strategy failed, and his personalized defense failed. Parcells failed more than Romo failed - then he blamed it on Romo. Disgusting. Parcells can leave now.