Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug.
That wonderfully witty phrase coined by then-Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler, one of the most underappreciated guitar gods of his time in the mind of this writer, perfectly describes life in the always-unpredictable National Football League.
And no one knows better than Tony Romo.
The undisputed goat of the first week of this 2011 season was the irrefutable hero of Sunday's slate of games, with the often-maligned quarterback delivering a gritty and heroic performance to pilot the Dallas Cowboys to a thrilling 27-24 overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers just seven days after allowing a seemingly in-the-bag win to literally slip through his fingers.
Temporarily knocked out of this week's contest after taking a hard shot to the gut late in the first half, Romo returned in the fourth quarter to gamely direct a pair of late scoring drives that led the Cowboys back from a 10-point deficit and forced the additional period. Then in a stirring final act, he found reserve receiver Jesse Holley for a 77-yard gain in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal and complete the improbable comeback.
Romo finished the day with 345 yards, two touchdowns, and a pair of cracked ribs. And though his savior act wasn't of Willis Reed or Kirk Gibson proportions, it at the very least temporarily rescued a season that would have been on red alert had the Cowboys suffered a second straight painful loss.
The three-time Pro Bowler's critics -- and there are plenty -- will be quick to point out Dallas would be 2-0 at this stage if not for last week's two inexcusable giveaways that turned a 14-point lead over the New York Jets with 12 minutes to go into a shocking 27-24 defeat. And a mid-September rally over a rebuilding San Francisco squad that isn't pegged as a serious championship contender isn't going to erase Romo's 1-3 career playoff record or his infamous botched snap as a holder in the memorable one-point loss to Seattle in the 2006 NFC Wild Card Round.
And there's no defensing those unforgettable blunders of the past, especially when they've all been magnified under big-game circumstances. Still, there's probably close to 20 other teams that would gladly trade what they've presently got under center for a player with a 40-23 regular-season record as a starter who's taken the Cowboys to the playoffs in three of the four previous years in which he's appeared in 10 games or more.
Unfortunately, unless he's able to bring Dallas back to a Super Bowl or come through in the clutch on the grandest of stages, Romo's overall body of work will continue to be overlooked. That's what comes with being the starting quarterback of the league's most high profile team.
Kinda like Mark Knopfler.
A few other notes and observations from Sunday's happenings:
Dallas' gutsy win over the 49ers was far from the only exciting finish on the Week 2 docket. Five other games (Falcons-Eagles, Bills-Raiders, Buccaneers- Vikings, Redskins-Cardinals, Broncos-Bengals) all went down to the wire on Sunday, with all being decided by four points or less. Buffalo's 35-31 outlasting of Oakland was perhaps the most compelling of the bunch, with the teams exchanging the lead five times in the fourth quarter before the unheralded Ryan Fitzpatrick gave the Bills the lead for good by orchestrating a 14-play drive capped by a six-yard touchdown pass to David Nelson.
Romo wins this week's resiliency award, but the Broncos deserve an honorable mention after coming away with a 24-22 decision over Cincinnati despite six key starters either sitting out or leaving due to injury, including running back Knowshon Moreno, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and cornerback Champ Bailey. Players like Willis McGahee (28 carries, 101 yards, 1 TD in Moreno's place) and young wideout Eric Decker (nine receptions, 113 yards) were able to step up in expanded roles, however, and help give John Fox his first victory in the Mile High City.
While we're still on the subject of toughness, those who questioned Jay Cutler's intestinal fortitude after last January's NFC Championship Game may want to reconsider after watching Chicago's 30-13 loss at New Orleans. The polarizing quarterback was absolutely battered by an ultra-aggressive Saints defense on Sunday, taking six sacks as well as a countless number of bone- crushing hits.
Not exactly a happy homecoming for Michael Vick in Atlanta. The onetime Falcons' franchise face committed three damaging turnovers (two fumbles, one interception) in his ballyhooed return to the Georgia Dome, then had to sit and watch his Philadelphia team squander a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in an eventual 35-31 defeat after sustaining a possible concussion in the second half. The much-talked about Eagles are still going to be a factor in the NFC race, but look very vulnerable against opponents with strong running games and tight ends that can get down the field.
There's been a lot of recent debate over whether the Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts now qualify as the NFL's worst team, and the perennial powerhouses have made a case with two brutal outings to begin 2011. Still, that dubious distinction unquestionably belongs to a haphazard Kansas City Chiefs outfit that's been outscored by a deplorable 89-10 margin over the first couple of weeks and lost their best offensive player, running back Jamaal Charles, to a suspected torn ACL in Sunday's 48-7 debacle at Detroit. Charles' injury comes one week after emerging star safety Eric Berry suffered the same fate, and two after valued tight end Tony Moeaki also suffered a year-ending knee injury in the preseason finale.
It's about time Josh Freeman got his just due as one of the game's elite quarterbacks. The young Tampa Bay gunslinger engineered his eighth fourth- quarter comeback in a mere 27 career starts after rallying the Buccaneers from a 17-0 halftime deficit in Sunday's impressive ousting of Minnesota on the road. If the Bucs were on national television more than once in a blue moon, he'd easily be as recognizable and revered as a Matt Ryan or Mark Sanchez.
Considering the early success of Cam Newton (a staggering 854 passing yards in his first two NFL starts) and Andy Dalton (332 passing yards, 2 TD, 0 INT at Denver on Sunday), there's no good reason for Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio not to throw Blaine Gabbert into the fire right now. Caretaker Luke McCown was beyond bad in the Jaguars' 32-3 loss to the New York Jets, completing a pathetic 6-of-19 passes for 59 yards and throwing four interceptions for an unfathomable 1.8 quarterback rating. Incidentally, Jacksonville's next game comes against Newton's improving Carolina Panthers in a potentially-intriguing matchup of rookie first-round picks.
Surprise of the week: Titans 26, Ravens 13. Baltimore was primed for a letdown after last Sunday's emotional trouncing of rival Pittsburgh, but no one could have foreseen a defense that was an absolute rock against the Steelers being torched for 358 yards by an aging Matt Hasselbeck.
Not entirely ready to anoint the Bills after their stunning 2-0 start, though Fitzpatrick and a suddenly-explosive offense have brought some genuine excitement and optimism that the city hasn't had in ages. With three of its next four games against New England, Philadelphia and the Giants, we'll get a better indication if Buffalo truly is for real.
The Cowboys are going to need Romo to play through the pain for at least another week, as there's a chance the team could be without both standout receiver Miles Austin (hamstring) and top rusher Felix Jones (shoulder) for an important Monday night divisional showdown with the currently unbeaten Washington Redskins in Week 3.