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NFL Gunslinger Of The Week: Tony Romo Will Be Missed

There’s a well-deserved Gunslinger of the Week Award to dish out, but we’ll get to that in a minute. First, we have more pressing matters to attend to.

In case you don’t read the Internet or watch TV or live close enough to Dallas to hear the wailing, Tony Romo — the reigning Gunslinger of the Year — broke his collarbone (again) in the Cowboys victory over the Eagles on Sunday and will miss most of the regular season. For fans of good, scrappy quarterbacking, this is sad news.

Romo’s gunslinging credentials are most easily summed up with this chart from the end of last season:

morris-week2-passes-gunslingers-2

Romo was the second-most-likely QB to throw picks when trailing big last season, but the most likely to win (all in all, he went 4-2 in those situations).

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Romo is both a good gunslinger and a good QB. It’s possible to have a high-risk style that is particularly suited to leading comebacks but is not as great for efficiency or win maximization (Matthew Stafford is a candidate for this syndrome). Some of Romo’s success may simply stem from an aggressive style. He presses more often than most QBs when his team is tied or slightly ahead — which can lead to fan ire when things don’t work out.

But generally, he has been an extremely productive and efficient quarterback, including leading the NFL in QBR and passer rating last season. That said, that Romo is a great gunslinger is probably more of a sure bet than that he is a great quarterback. Which is not to say that he isn’t a great QB — I have said the same thing about Joe Montana! We may have more data on QBs than anything in football, but QB production is a team effort — and we rarely know what will happen when one sits. Sometimes there’s utter collapse (like with the Colts after Peyton Manning), sometimes there are miracles (Kurt Warner), and sometimes an entrenched starter is pushed out by a thirsty youngster (Tom Brady over Drew Bledsoe, Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith).

The Cowboys are in an even more unpredictable spot. Their top three skill position players from last year’s campaign are gone — Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant (also injured) and running back DeMarco Murray (departed in free agency). While I’ll miss Romo, the cold-blooded empiricist in me is excited to see what happens. If the Cowboys can stay efficient with Brandon Weeden running the show, it may say something about how important skill position stars really are.

But enough about that — on to what we’re here for:

The Tony Romo ‘Get Well Soon’ Gunslinger Of The Week Award

This was not a great week for crazy play. Peyton Manning had the biggest comeback (from 14 points down), and all QBs who threw more interceptions than their opponents lost. But we did see a lot more trailing QBs throw downfield than last week (28 passes of 20-plus yards vs. 13), so I assume that means all NFL QBs read this column.

morris-week2-passes-gunslingers-1

Cast your gaze on Tyrod Taylor, the new starter for the Buffalo Bills. While he didn’t push the ball downfield as much as, say, Ben Roethlisberger last week, the shots he did take weren’t exactly throwing the ball away: three of his four shots of 20-plus yards in this situation resulted in either TDs (2) or INTs (1).

Overall, Taylor had three TDs and three INTs in the game. His first INT came in the first quarter, with Buffalo trailing New England by 7, on a 3rd and 9 that he threw 10 yards downfield. His second, with Buffalo trailing by 11, came on a 3rd and 13 thrown 26 yards downfield. Buffalo would trail by as many as 24 (37-13) in the fourth quarter before it mounted a comeback. Taylor scored TDs on three consecutive drives (two on long throws) to pull Buffalo within 5. Finally, with 1:15 left, the rally came to an end the way all rallies that don’t end up as wins should: with a deep interception.

In Taylor’s first start last week he took out (and outplayed) Skeptical Football favorite and Gunslinger extraordinaire Andrew Luck. This week he joins him as a Gunslinger Award winner.

Reminder: If you tweet NFL questions to me @skepticalsports, there is a non-zero chance that I’ll answer them in Skeptical Football.

Benjamin Morris researches and writes about sports and other topics for FiveThirtyEight.

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