Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Here Comes Kyle

For the third straight season, the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in a Week 17 playoff game. The bad news? They are 0-2 so far. The really bad news? Tony Romo is out, and Kyle Orton is starting. Can the backup do the unthinkable?

The circle of life in the NFL playoffs always seems to come down to Week 17 and the Dallas Cowboys, and the Sunday night prime time game on NBC, game 256 of the season.

“We probably should just circle that date on our calendars every year,’’ Dallas tight end Jason Witten said Thursday afternoon from Texas after the Cowboys’ penultimate practice for yet another pre-postseason playoff game. “It’s pretty weird. What are the chances of this happening?”

For the third straight year, on the same final weekend of the NFL season, Dallas (8-7) plays a win-and-you’re-in/lose-and-you’re-out game against a different NFC East team to close out the league’s regular season. The omens are not good. Two years ago, in New Jersey, Dallas lost on New Year’s to the Giants 31-14; New York won the division. Last year, at Washington, Tony Romo threw three interceptions in a 28-18 loss; Washington won the division. This year, the good news is Dallas will be playing at home. Two pieces of bad news: Quarterback Tony Romo is unlikely to play with his back injury, and the Eagles come to town with a 6-1 record since Nov. 1. They beat Chicago 54-11 last week in one of the season’s most one-sided beatdowns.

Not the best environment for Kyle Orton to make his Dallas starting debut. Two years ago this weekend, Orton started his last game for the woebegone Chiefs. K.C. beat Denver 7-3 in a game where Tim Tebow went 6 of 22 in his last regular-season start as a Bronco.

It is my veteran scribe best guess that Kyle Orton will need to put up more than seven points to win Sunday night.

That is, of course, assuming Romo doesn’t make a miracle return from a herniated disk, which ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Romo had Monday afternoon and owner Jerry Jones refuted Monday night. But it’s probably no more than a 5 percent chance that Romo somehow takes the field Sunday night in Arlington. He has missed both days of practice this week, and the players have gotten no indication he’ll be out there today for the final day of full-period work for Sunday. “I would never count him out,’’ said Witten, one of Romo’s best friends. “But I don’t know enough about the situation either way to say.”

In my conversation with Witten, I thought the most revealing thing he said was a simple sentence about game philosophy: “We have to keep the Eagles’ offense off the field.’’ I found myself thinking: He’s not saying that about this game if his quarterback’s out there—especially after Romo led them to 31, 28, 36 and 24 points the past four weeks. With Romo on the field, and playing at home, the Cowboys would be confident they could win a scoring contest with the potent Eagles. But that, of course, is just spitballing. My guess is Witten and the rest of the team figure Romo’s out, and they’ve got to make do with Orton.

Orton played a garbage-time series against the Bears in Week 14, completing 3-of-5 passes on a scoring drive. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Orton played a garbage-time series against the Bears in Week 14, completing 3-of-5 passes on a scoring drive. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Before I get to Orton, a word about Romo first. Witten said he saw Romo very uncomfortable in the huddle near the end of the game, and just as uncomfortable after the game on the bus and on the plane home from Washington. “To finish the game the way he did, to put the team on his back on that last drive and find a way to move around enough and get that touchdown to DeMarco [Murray], he would not be denied,’’ Witten said. “I could tell he was hurting on the throw to DeMarco. Imagine doing what he did with his back hurt. Of the guys I’ve played with, Tony’s the ultimate competitor. The will he has is incredible.”

But …

“The best thing in a situation like we’re facing is to have a quarterback like Kyle, who’s been there before, who’s started a lot of games in this league,’’ Witten continued. “Guys will rally behind Kyle. They already have. I just told him, ‘Just communicate with us. Whatever we can do to help out, just communicate.’ We’ve had very good energy at practice. I can tell you, we’re not down at all. We like Kyle a lot. It’s been a crazy season for us. So many times in my career, I’d have given anything to be in this situation—win your last game and you’re in the playoffs.”

I remember in the spring of 2010, when Tebow had just been drafted by the Broncos and Orton was the incumbent. I wrote a story for Sports Illustrated on the installation of the Denver offense, and on Tebow’s adjustment to pro football, and I sat in on a meeting run by offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. I remember well Orton sitting on one side of a table, processing the new scheme and learning the new plays, and spitting everything back at McCoy like he knew the foreign language and the other quarterbacks in the room were struggling with it. Orton was doing calculus, the other guys algebra. You could tell who the veteran in the room was. “He’s a professional quarterback, which is what we like about him,’’ Witten said, and I knew exactly what he meant.

The big thing for Dallas receivers will be getting used to Orton’s throws—how he leads them, the velocity on the balls, who he prefers on certain routes versus different coverages. That’ll be a mystery until game time. But it stands to reason Witten and Murray will be vital players in Dallas’ keep-the-chains-moving offense Sunday night. But it’ll be a shame, obviously, and probably a game-killer for Dallas if Orton can’t find Dez Bryant two or three times down the field.

For Philadelphia, the loss of Romo would be huge. Romo can escape a ferocious rush; Orton is not quick in the pocket. A very tough task—as tough as either of the last two finales—got a lot tougher when Romo lunged to avoid a sack in Washington on Sunday. And unless Orton plays a mistake-free game and Witten and Murray help him play keepaway from Nick Foles, the third time won’t be much different than the first two.

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60 comments
hoth733
hoth733

To Answer your question:...

No.

CWIngrao
CWIngrao

Peter King was careful not to say anything positive about Orton.  He mentions Orton's last start, a 7-3 victory vs. Denver, but not the fact that the KC interim coach Cranell called a very conservative game with almost no passing plays after Orton led the game's opening drive with a TD.  He could have pointed out that in Orton's only two other games with KC he (1) lit up the undefeated (13-0) Green Bay Packers (who finished (15-1), and that he threw for a late TD vs. Oakland to tie the score, which he then followed up by taking KC into easy field goal range, only to have the kicker miss his first FG in months as regulation expired.  Had the FG been made, Orton would have finished 3-0 and KC would have win the AFC West title.  When Cranell was signed for the next year, he claimed that Orton played the decisive role in his promotion.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

This game will be closer than most of my fellow Eagles fans think.  I won't bore you with my details but I think the final is: Eagles 27 Cowboys 17.

Jim C1
Jim C1

Here is a question: why do you keep a team "off the field"? The more time you have with the ball, the more the clock runs down, but that really just means less possessions throughout the game for *both* teams.  It will be a lower scoring game if you have long drives but you can still only score once on that drive.This isn't make-it-take-it.


Discuss.

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

"If Ryan gets this team to 8-8, he shouldn’t accept a contract extension. President Obama should hire him to run Healthcare.gov. "

Podiatrists would love that.

Thomas15
Thomas15

Dallas needs not one but TWO Special Teams turnovers to have a shot. They actually need an entire series of small miracles. 

racy0057
racy0057

I hope that the Cowboys just put an end to their misery, this Sunday.  I mean, if Orton is the QB to finally win that week 17 game, that Romo has failed to do so often, it isn't going to do anything to help Romo's legacy and, in fact, may hurt it more.  I like Romo and think he has been unjustly criticized may too much already.  The guy is the ultimate competitor and has won more games, in the 4th quarter, than lost, by a large number.  Even if they get by Philadelphia, the chances of them doing anything in the playoffs, with such a bad defense, is pretty much zero.  


It's time for the Cowboys to start over with another head coach (and GM, but that isn't happening) and to try and rebuild a winning culture.  Jerry needs to hire a good HC and allow him to pick his own staff, i.e: defensive coordinator.  Time is running out for guys like Romo and Whitten and often a new environment, under new leadership can turn a team around quickly.  Maybe Gruden would take the job.   I don't see him putting up with Jerry's crap and I'm sure that would be a pre- condition of him taking the job.  The problem is that, even if the team succeeds under a new HC, Jerry wouldn't like someone else getting the credit for it.  That's what drove Jimmy Johnson out of Dallas and why his 'yes man" Garrett will likely be around for next season.

JPG
JPG

Is Kyle Orton comes through with a win for the Cowboys it won't be the first time a back up Dallas qb stepped up and won...1974 with Clint Longley.

Mark20
Mark20

Pity that such a great player as Jason Witten has to play for such a mediocre franchise.

Peter22
Peter22

as a pats fan, ihope they bring rex back again. his act as worn thin and anything that doesn't help help the jests is good for the pats. make sure you stick with your young qb if you do stay, rex....thanks

RobertSmith
RobertSmith

K.C. beat Denver 7-3 in a game where Tim Tebow went 6 of 22"


Yeah, but Tebow didn't have any receivers, to be fair.  Even Peyton Manning would struggle to put up more than 3 points or complete his passes if he had to throw the likes of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, Tebow's main targets.

EmmittDale
EmmittDale

Food for thought: 2013 Houston Texans, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Washington Redskins-they all folded when faced with varying difficult circumstances this year. All of them are not in postseason contention and are hardly talked about. 2013 Dallas Cowboys: one game away from a division title with no less number of issues than all those other teams and all that is talked about is what a wasted season it has been in Dallas.

gary41
gary41

Thanks for all that important information, filled with disclaimers.  This one could get seriously out of hand, on both sides of the ball, w Philly winning big.

Winger7
Winger7

The Cowboys would be better off if Cowboy Bob Orton played QB.

iron_thor
iron_thor

Well, it looks like it will be 19 YEARS with TWO playoff wins since the departure of Jimmy Johnson.

DougDavis
DougDavis

It would really be something if Kitna goes in the 3rd q down 35 to 3, and wins it at the end with a jump in the endzone Bryant comes up with.

retro-grouch
retro-grouch

Somewhere in a church basement in Dallas a man stands up in front of the group and says, "Hi, my name is Jerry and I think Tony Romo is a great quarterback…"

DanielDavis
DanielDavis

When Witten says the Eagle's offense has to be kept off the field, I don't take that as a comment about whether or not Romo will play (although I'd be very surprised if he does). I take it as an acknowledgement of how the Cowboys cannot rely on their offense to win a shoot out because no matter how good they are, the defense is unreliable enough to give it away anyway (see games against Denver and Green Bay). Dallas cannot depend on their defense one bit. The secret to winning this game is to not let the Eagles have the ball.

Thomas15
Thomas15

“We have to keep the Eagles’ offense off the field.’’


The Eagles lose the time of possession every week win or lose. dallas literally needs to play the perfect game Offensively to win. A 9 minute  TD drive each Q, just to give their Defense a shot at stopping the Eagles. Anything's possible I guess. But you'd have to be a FOOL to bet the cowboys in this game, even with the points. 

retro-grouch
retro-grouch

  Kyle Orton's little disagreements with Tim Tebow and his subsequent trashing by Tebow's fans have overshadowed the fact that he has been highly respected by virtually all his other teammates, both in the locker rooms and in the FOs. 

  He's also an astute businessman who has leveraged his modest talents into some amazing paydays.  A fourth round pick who was traded by his original team, he's probably raked in almost $20 million over the last four years.  It's slightly incredible that the roughly $8.5 million that the Cowboys have paid him so far will lead to this one start, with the playoffs on the line.

retro-grouch
retro-grouch

    Orton's slightly too-late release is not just about footwork, it's also about perception and mental processes.  His feet are slow but he's also late to react to pressure.

     He just doesn't have great awareness of the players around him as he looks down the field and when he moves away from pressure he's not quite decisive enough to have a high success rate.  One memorable aspect of his Broncos run was the extraordinary number of balls tipped and blocked at the line.  Another was the number of passes made just after defenders got a hand on him, disrupting the throw.

    Orton can have a big day from a static pocket.  If the Eagles let him have one then they'll get what they deserve.

George
George

Neckbeard throws a nice ball and is an intelligent qb


but he has zilch mobility and when under direct pressure he nearly screams and faints.   And in the end, he's never really been a winner - couldn't even beat out Tebow.


Philly defense needs to force third-and-longs - then unleash the hounds.  Orton will fold like a cheap lawn chair.

Bets?


JosephSmith
JosephSmith

Orten is almost enough to pull for the Cowboys but naw........

Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan
Ocean_State_Patriots_Fan

If Kyle Orton does the “unthinkable” Sunday night, then it will likely be in spite of—and not because of—Dallas’ defense.Indeed, Dallas’ defense is a greater liability than Kyle Orton, who may have some success against a mediocre Philadelphia defense.I expect that Foles & Co. will move through Dallas’ porous defense faster than Grant took Richmond.

Realist
Realist

I don't really care who wins the Cowboys-Eagles game and think it's kind of embarrassing that this level of game still matters in week 17. But wouldn't it be fun to see Orton lead the Cowboys to the playoffs and watch the talking heads explode!


gary41
gary41

Mel Tucker, DC for the Bears, has already interviewed for 3 or more jobs as HC in his brief tenure in the NFL.  It's all about upward mobility and not about the record and certainly not about what might happen in the Bears vs Packers game. 

GoBears1987
GoBears1987

Regarding Mel Tucker getting head coaching opportunities:  anyone who has watched the Bears D this season would know that he doesn't have what it takes, regardless of the myriad injuries.  That being said, I'm sure he's a perfect candidate for the upcoming Cowboys job.

Shooter McGavin 19711
Shooter McGavin 19711

I love how Peter King changes his tune to suit whatever narrative he wants to spew weekly.  All season, King focused for the most part on Romo's many failings.  I mean, Romo leading a late game winning drive to keep Dallas alive in week 16 didn't warrant ANYTHING from King.  If Romo had blown that game?  It would have led King's column.  And now the Cowboys are worse off with a guy that keeps costing them games?  Um, how can that be, Peter?  You are down on Romo - so clearly Orton is a fine replacement.


If Tom Brady had played a game with a herniated disc, and led a late TD drive to win the game, King would be visiting the Pope right now, to ask that Brady be canonized - before Tom died of course.



Rickapolis
Rickapolis

The problems with the Cowboys can be expressed in two words. The same two words that doom them year after year. Those two words are: 1) 'Jerry' and 2) 'Jones'. And there is no end to it in sight. Even if Orton manages to get the win (and it is possible) Dallas has no chance to advance. Why? See the two words above.

canadianox
canadianox

This NFL observer thinks Cowboys have a better chance with Orton than Romo, for one obvious reason - Romo throws brutal picks (or fumbles) in big games. Have you ever seen Kyle Orton and Dave Grohl (foofighters) in the same room at the same time? 

Jim C1
Jim C1

@psychsports Your comment completely contradicts what you say on your blog (Romo "irreplacable"???). You also offer zero professional or clinical support for anything you say. You also don't mention that, obviously, people *do* have some sort of capacity to rally around a replacement.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@psychsports aren't you the guy that called Romo "irreplaceable"?  Credibility = 0.  We are all replaceable.  

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@Jim C1 I'm really sorry about his and don't mean to sound snarky, but... do you watch much football?  Yeah, you can only score once on a drive but your opponent can't score (except for a pick 6 or something) at all.  This strategy is supposed to wear down the defense and force the opposing offense to alter their game plan to due to "time pressures" that you create by keeping them off the field.  Most coaches don't care about the number of possessions their team has, they care about the time they hold the ball (Kelly is an exception).  

PickSixPeyton
PickSixPeyton

@RobertSmith   Peyton Manning would win a playoff game too if he had the receivers Tebow had, like Demaryius Thomas, and Eric Decker.

ragnarsworld
ragnarsworld

@RobertSmithWould this be the same Eric Decker who has caught 168 passes and scored 23 touchdowns the past two seasons?  Or the same Demaryius Thomas who has caught 86 passes and scored 12 touchdowns this year?  Doesn't look like Peyton has struggled all that much.  More like Tebow just sucked passing the ball.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@DanielDavis You should have read the article.  Romo had back surgery today and has been put on IR.  Orton is starting the game and the cowboys brought John Kitna back to be his back up.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@retro-grouch his Business Agent probably deserves more credit for those big paydays than Orton himself.

themekons
themekons

@Realistyou sound a like a real football fan! ...concerned about everything except watching a quality game.

Shooter McGavin 19711
Shooter McGavin 19711

@GoBears1987 Only if he's a yes man..... (I don't know him, so I don't know if he is).  I will say, that I believe Jones WILL bring Garrett back again.  I mean, three years in a row, Dallas will finish 8-8 and lose in week 17 EACH year with a playoff spot on the line.  It is the definition of insanity, which suits Jones.



themekons
themekons

@Shooter McGavin 19711i love it when readers insist on the same coverage for Romo as they get for Brady.  after all, the two are about equal in quality of play, historical importance, etc.

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@Shooter McGavin 19711 Romo's game winning drive didn't warrant anything from King because:  he did it against a 3-11 team b) that 3-11 team is in even more disarray than Dallas c) Shannahan has already started making tee times d) it's a disgrace that the boys needed 59 minutes to get ahead of the Deadskins.  


It's really nothing to brag about at all.

PKpwnage
PKpwnage

@canadianoxThis NFL observer thinks the Cowboys lose those big games by at least three touchdowns without Romo.

Jim C1
Jim C1

@PhillyPenn @Jim C1 I am very well-versed in football and I am totally serious. I ask because I think it rarely gets discussed (sort of like "defense wins championships"--well, so do offenses). I think if you can wear down a defense that is one thing, assuming you have a punishing offensive line and RB, I guess.


Otherwise, it doesn't matter how long you have the ball. My point is that you are running down the clock but that just shortens the game for *both* teams. It doesn't matter that the other team can't score when you have the ball. That is a fallacy. If I have long drives, it is like a shorter game: as if the game was only 50 minutes instead of 60--but that just means both teams will have less chances to score.


And, how about this: if you shoot for long, long drives with many plays, your odds for a turnover go up! Your chances for an errant pass or a tipped pass or even a fumble, increase.

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