|Julio Cortez/Associated Press|
|Tony Romo had two critical turnovers in the fourth quarter that kept the Cowboys from beating the Jets.|
It's hard to give Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo the "first-game" pass for fumbling and throwing an interception in Sunday's loss to the Jets because his late-game breakdowns have happened too often at key moments throughout his nine-year career.
While his teammates will publicly have his back, Dallas could be treading into dangerous territory when it comes to Romo.
Players and coaches will grow tired of playing well enough to win and have Romo turn the ball over or make a mistake that leads to a loss. It happened last season in Minnesota with Brett Favre. The disenchantment came in whispers, but it was there.
In the midst of a stretch where Favre threw 10 interceptions during an early-season malaise in which Minnesota lost four of six games, players and coaches told me (not for publication at the time) how frustrated they were because everyone knew Favre was the problem. However, everyone seemed to sidestep it in order to avoid controversy.
That frustration only compounded angst toward then-coach Brad Childress and had players second-guessing a lot of what was going on.
If Romo continues to slip when it matters most, the same thing could happen in a locker room that we know hasn't been the most unified during the Romo era. That simmering dissent could fracture faith, and that would be a wrap for a team with the potential to get to the playoffs and make something happen once they're there.
It's all about Romo now. The defense, special teams and other parts of the offense will be afforded some margin for error. Not Romo.
Where things could get even more complicated is Plan B. What is it?
It's the same thing Minnesota faced last season. There wouldn't be nearly the uproar in Dallas if Romo is replaced by Jon Kitna at some point as there would have been if Favre was pulled for Tarvaris Jackson. But is Kitna really the answer?
If Romo can't deal with the pressure of winning games late, how in the world would he respond if he had to come off the bench to rescue the team if Kitna got hurt or was ineffective?
Dallas has to ride with Romo. If he slips again in the guts of a game, they'll have to cope with the fallout and start planning for the future. They've groomed third-stringer Stephen McGee for three seasons, and maybe they ramp up his development. Drafting a quarterback in 2012 would be a prudent investment, regardless of where things go with Romo.
The Cowboys just have to hope that Romo finally stops being like the basketball player who scores 28 points per game but none in the final minute. A pattern is being established and if Romo can't be relied upon in the clutch, it will damage the psyche of the team. The fan base already has grown weary as memories of Danny White are being conjured more and more by talk-radio callers.
Romo's a good player. No doubting that. There is a difference between good and clutch, though, and the grace period is about up for Romo.
Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.