“The quarterback is hurt.” For football teams and fans who harbor postseason hopes, no words incite greater fear. Ask Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones how he felt when Tony Romo lay on the ground in pain on Sunday, his left shoulder crushed into the turf. “Just about as low as a crippled cricket’s ass” was his response. If that doesn’t quite translate, he certainly echoed the sentiments of the fanbase when he talked about being sick over the loss of Romo for roughly eight weeks with a broken collarbone.
Of course, if your team doesn’t have realistic championship aspirations, losing the quarterback can mean something entirely different. Safe to say, the response to Jay Cutler’s hamstring injury in the Bears’ loss to the Cardinals wasn’t quite as pained. Fans who’ve clamored for the end of the Cutler era in Chicago viewed it as a step closer to the top overall draft pick in 2016… and a brand new savior.
It’s no secret the quarterback garners more attention and more notoriety than any other player. He earns far too much credit when a team wins, and he absorbs far too much blame when a team breaks down. Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu recently told me he’d love to cash the same paychecks as Andy Dalton, but he’s not sure he’d want to deal with all the pressure and responsibility. The ultimate NFL player dilemma: with the extra millions come extra scrutiny and fan bases who pin their hopes for glory squarely on you.
While Romo’s injury was depressing and brought an immediate reaction, fans shouldn’t bury Dallas just yet. The loss of an elite quarterback and his top target, Dez Bryant, in back-to-back games IS a massive setback.. make no mistake. But the Cowboys reside in the NFC East. The division is also home to a pair of winless clubs (Giants and Eagles) and a team with zero expectations (Redskins). The defending division champs feature one of football’s best offensive lines to protect Brandon Weeden as he replaces Romo. Jason Witten, Terrance Williams and Lance Dunbar form a trio of above-average weapons; and the running back combo of Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden can carry more of the load.
If the Cowboys play .500 football until mid-November, when Romo is due back, they’ll stay in the mix for the division title. It’s a tall order since the schedule includes the Patriots, Seahawks, Falcons and two more division battles. But the defense will welcome back Randy Gregory, Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy over the next month. Until then, linebacker Sean Lee spearheads a run-stopping unit that’s already surprising people out of the gate.
Romo’s injury comes at the worst possible time for him personally. Going back to last season’s 12-4 campaign, he’s been putting up career numbers for a team that expects to challenge for the Super Bowl. But as long as Dallas can tread water, he’ll rejoin the Cowboys in time to contend for the stretch run.
The same probably can’t be said of the Bears. Off to an 0-2 start, Jay Cutler will likely miss a couple weeks after straining his hamstring Sunday trying to make a tackle in the wake of an interception. Some fans actually celebrated the injury and the move to backup Jimmy Clausen, framing it as another step toward running Cutler out of town and picking his replacement in next spring’s draft.
A poor man’s Brett Favre, Cutler has always been a gunslinger, for better or worse. The breaking point for most Chicago fans was last year’s turnover fiesta. Losing can expose a lack of leadership in the locker room, and when the wheels fell off for the Bears, they didn’t have enough strong voices to guide them through adversity. Of course, Cutler was blamed for the mess, despite the wrong fit at head coach and a defense without identity.
Ignoring the objections of the fanbase, the organization stood pat with Cutler in the offseason. Fair or unfair, when the fans’ confidence in Cutler plummeted, so did expectations. But being without their starter for a few games may jerk people back to reality. Not everything is Cutler’s fault. He didn’t give up the 108-yard kickoff return to jumpstart the Cardinals at the outset, and he didn’t allow them to score on consecutive drives before his pick 6.
In 2014, nearly half of all NFL teams played multiple starting quarterbacks. Fifteen of the 32 clubs made changes under center because of injuries or ineptitude. Only three of them made the playoffs (Cowboys, Cardinals and Panthers), and none of them reached the conference championship. Already this year, four teams have used different quarterbacks. The Saints and Lions could join the list this weekend if Drew Brees, with his banged up shoulder, and Matt Stafford, with his bruised ribs, can’t play through pain. Throw in the Jets and Redskins who flip-flopped starters in training camp, and a fourth of the league potentially falls in this category to kick off Week 3. While it’s not impossible to make the playoffs or win a ring after changing QBs, a lack of consistency and steadiness under center adds another giant challenge in the obstacle course known as the NFL season.
A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @.