Extra Points: Romo is masking deficiencies in Dallas

( - Jerry Jones loves himself some Jerry Jones.

The Dallas Cowboys owner sparked more than a few guffaws when he gave his general manager a vote of confidence late last week.

Jones, of course, is the GM in Dallas and the only billionaire among the NFL owners' club narcissistic enough to truly believe he's better equipped to run a football team than a traditional "football guy."

"The facts are that I really do think the way things have rolled out that I'm getting to do some of the best work that I've done, relatively speaking in my career of these last several years," Jones told CBS Dallas last Friday.

Talk about out of touch.

To be fair Jones was a co-captain of the 1964 Arkansas national championship team and an all-Southwest Conference offensive lineman for Hall of Fame coach Frank Broyles so it's not like he was never around the game.

That said, he spent the next 20-plus years of his life cultivating a fortune in the oil and gas exploration business not living and breathing professional football.

That all changed in 1989 when Jones purchased the Cowboys from "Bum" Bright for $140 million and fired legendary coach Tom Landry so he could install his friend from Arkansas, Jimmy Johnson, as the team's mentor.

A few months later, longtime general manager Tex Schramm was jettisoned and Jones installed himself as football chief although Johnson was thought to be the one in full control of all talent-related matters, a definition of the partnership that foreshadowed the eventual divorce.

Sacking Landry and Schramm were unpopular moves at the time but proved to be prudent ones as Johnson and Jones teamed to build a juggernaut which won back to back Super Bowl titles in 1992 and 1993.

After the second crown, however, Jones got a little green when the narrative painted Johnson as the genius and Jerry as the owner with the loose purse strings.

Reports surfaced that a whiskey-fueled Jones claimed "any one of 500 coaches could have won those Super Bowls," given the type of talent he provided Johnson.

By 1994 Johnson was forced out for the lightly-regarded Barry Switzer and sure enough the Cowboys won one more with the talent already assembled, seemingly vindication for Jones if the story ended there.

Problem is we now have quite the sample size to grade Jerry when left to his own devices without a real football mind guiding him.

The Cowboys have won exactly one playoff game in the last 17 years and the five coaches Jones has hired since the last Super Bowl win have ranged from jokes (Dave Campo) to people stealing his money (Bill Parcells), to the definition of mediocrity (Chan Gailey and Wade Phillips).

The current mentor in Dallas is Jones rubber stamp Jason Garrett, another lightly-regarded pilot who has roughly the same amount of power as the guy who cuts Jones' lawn.

Despite all of that, though, the Cowboys are once again in first place in the NFC East after winning a hard-fought battle over the New York Giants, 24-21, on Sunday.

So how do you get into first place with no running game, a pedestrian offensive line, and a historically bad defense thanks to Jones' colossal mistake of replacing the aggressive-minded Rob Ryan -- the same defensive mind turning around things in New Orleans -- with Monte Kiffin, a fossil who worships at the altar of the antiquated cover-2 defensive philosophy?

Try looking at quarterback Tony Romo.

Romo, the same guy who gets most of the heat in Dallas when things go wrong, is the very player keeping this thing afloat.

It was Romo who engineered the late scoring drive on Sunday culminating in Dan Bailey's 34-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the 'Boys over Big Blue at a frigid MetLife Stadium.

It was Romo who threw a pair of touchdown passes to Jason Witten earlier in the contest and finished with 250 yards on 23-of-38 passing.

His best work, however, came after taking over at his own 20 with 4:45 left to play and the Giants having scored 15 straight points to forge a 21-21 tie.

Romo and Dez Bryant teamed up for a pair of critical third-down conversions on the game-winning possession, a 19-yard connection early on and an 8-yarder just prior to the two-minute warning.

He later found Miles Austin for a 17-yard gain that got the Cowboys in Bailey's range, then came up with yet another big completion -- a 13-yard strike to Cole Beasley on 3rd-and-10 that enabled Dallas to run down the clock before Bailey split the uprights.

"Everyone understood how important the game was for both teams," said Romo. '(The Giants) had won four in a row to put themselves back into position. They had a home game. I could tell by their words leading up to it that they were confident. That's what makes the game great."

Cowboys fans have seen this movie before, though.

"It's unfortunate that over these last five or six years that we haven't had a few things turn right for us at the end of the season," Jones said. "Needing to win one of two games to get into the playoffs, having a healthy quarterback, all of those things. But we've been a lot closer than it seems."

No they haven't.

Romo has been masking the fact that the Cowboys haven't been all that close for many years.

There has always been a lot "is Eli elite-talk" in the New York market. That's a subject for another column but save the upper echelon like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, no signal caller in football has performed at a higher level than Romo over the past eight seasons, especially when it counts.

Entering Sunday's contest Romo had the highest fourth-quarter passer rating among active quarterbacks, a key metric in Jones' decision to extend the veteran and give him $108 million in March despite the distinct lack of postseason success.

People tend the harp on the high-profile failures Romo has had like the bumbled snap as a holder against Seattle in the playoffs or his performance at Washington in Week 17 last season with the NFC East on the line but Romo is the one willing this deeply-flawed team to those situations.

This time when things go bad -- whether its in Week 17 against Philadelphia or the first round of the playoffs -- the Dallas faithful will likely take aim at Romo again. Perhaps, though, they should be more concerned with the fact that the guy who hasn't amassed enough talent around the quarterback plans to continue in his role for another 15 or 20 years,

"One of the reasons that I to some degree have taken the risks that I have over the years and kind of had the professional life that I followed is so that I get to decide when enough is enough," Jones said. "So I do get to decide that.

"I think (staying as GM) is in the best interest of the team, franchise and really our fans."

Textbook denial -- what owner in his right mind would keep a GM with Jones' track record over the past 17 seasons?

If Jerry looked in the mirror and didn't see a megalomaniac staring back at him, he would have realized long ago there is no empirical evidence to think the next two decades is going to be much different than the last 17 years.

In fact it's likely to get much worse because Romo isn't going to be around forever and Jones will be picking his replacement.