RIVAL HEADLINE: Cowboys’ Romo has a split personality

Romo has a split-personality reputation -- Good Tony versus Bad Tony -- thanks to some highly publicized fourth-quarter mishaps during his six-year career.

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DALLAS — Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has not thrown an interception in his last 64 pass attempts. He has only one pickoff in his last three games.

“Good Tony” is in a groove, which could be bad news for the Buffalo Bills today when they face the Cowboys before a crowd of about 80,000 in Cowboys Stadium.

The Bills’ chances of pulling an upset would be enhanced if they could pad their league-leading total of 15 interceptions and make “Bad Tony” reappear.

“He has a lot of weapons, and Tony is one of those guys who can make all the throws,” said Bills cornerback Terrence McGee. “I just hope we can harass him a little bit and get him to give up some picks.”

Romo has a split-personality reputation — Good Tony versus Bad Tony — thanks to some highly publicized fourth-quarter mishaps during his six-year career.

This year alone there was a Romo fumble at the Jets’ 3-yard line late in the season opener to secure a New York comeback victory. And there was a three-interception second half in a Cowboys’ collapse against Detroit.

The fact Dallas has won just one playoff game in Romo’s tenure only fuels criticism of Romo’s every miscue in football-mad Texas. Until he wins more in the postseason, Dallas fanatics likely will keep bringing up his fumble on a hold of a field-goal try to lose his first playoff start. Or Dallas’ home loss as a No. 1 seed a week after Romo’s quickie vacation to Mexico with then-girlfriend Jessica Simpson.

Overall, however, Romo has been a top-flight quarterback. His career record is 43-26. His 95.1 career passer rating is fourth best among active QBs (behind only Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers). His career yards-per-attempt average of 8.0 is third best among active QBs (behind only Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger). He has ranked among the top eight in the league in passing yards five of his six seasons, counting this year. Most teams would love such a “Bad Tony.”

Romo has 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. Dallas coach Jason Garrett says his QB has done a good job of protecting the ball of late.

“He’s played very good football throughout the year,” Garrett said. “There were some games early on in the season where late in the game we didn’t take care of the ball as well as we needed to and that hurt us.”

“But one of the things I’ve really enjoyed about coaching Tony the last four and a half years is he always comes back, whether we win or lose or if things don’t work out, he comes back with the idea he’s going to learn and get better from that experience,” Garrett said. “Hopefully he continues to play as efficiently as he has the last few weeks and that gives us an opportunity to play our best on Sunday.”

Romo says he understands the scrutiny.

“A lot of people either love the Cowboys or hate ’em, and that sparks a lot of interest,” he said. “Knowing that, you just go play. For me, I’m going to play to the best of my ability, and when it’s all said and done, usually that’s pretty good. We’re getting on a roll and we have to keep going.”

Romo has been helped by the play of rookie running back DeMarco Murray, who has rushed for 466 yards the last three games, the most of any Dallas back over any three-game stretch in team history, Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett included.

Dallas is especially good on toss sweeps and counters, in which Murray follows the lead of a pulling guard.

“It’s going to be a very similar game to the one we played this past week against the Jets,” said Bills inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. “They use regular personnel [two wide receivers, two running backs], trying to establish the run. The rookie DeMarco Murray is having a great season. He’s carrying that team. First things first, we have to establish that we can stop the run.”

Murray is averaging 6.7 yards a carry. Even though the Bills have lost two of their last three, they have done a reasonable job of run defense in that stretch. Buffalo ranks 20th in rushing yards allowed, yielding 120 yards a game. Dallas is averaging 120 rushing a game.

Everybody on the Bills’ defense knows they will have to get in the run-supporting act.

“What I like about our corners is we don’t have anybody who’s scared to go in there and make tackles,” McGee said. “Everybody we have will stick their nose in there, and we’ll have to make good tackles against this team.”

If the Bills can’t contain Murray, it probably will be a long day against Romo. Even though Dallas’ best receiver, Miles Austin, is out with a hamstring injury, Dallas has an All-Pro tight end in Jason Witten and an elite talent at receiver in Dez Bryant, a first-round pick last year.

“Tony has great vision,” Garrett said. “He sees things. He understands spatial relations on the field as well as any player I’ve ever been around.”

On offense the Bills’ challenge is different than last week against the Jets, who played physical man-to-man coverage at the line of scrimmage.

“We’ve got a challenge on our hands in pass protection,” coach Chan Gailey said. “What they do is they’re not a big bump-and-run, man team. They try to run a lot of different coverages and confuse you just long enough for the pass rush to get there.”

Courtesy: Mark Gaughan | The Buffalo News

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