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ON THIS ONE, ROMO ISN'T TO BLAME

Tony Romo always seems to have a Cowboys Stadium-sized target on his back. When you play for "America's Team," sign a $119.5 million contract extension and haven't won a playoff game since 2009, scrutiny comes with the territory. But the most criticized quarterback in the NFL is getting a raw deal when it comes to the latest claim: He choked late in last week's 51-48 loss to the Broncos.

Romo threw for a franchise-record 506 yards as well as five touchdowns, matching Peyton Manning pass for pass for 58 minutes in racking up a 140 quarterback rating. However, Romo is getting reviled for his interception that led to the winning field goal as time expired.

"He played one of the most sensational games I've ever seen," Cowboys Hall of Fame QB Roger Staubach told the Dallas Morning News. "It makes no sense. Those people who blame him, I don't know. They ought to take a look at their lives.

"I've been a quarterback, and I know this guy is playing great football. Seeing critics blame these tough losses, especially this game, on him sends a message to me that some people will never cut him a break. I can't believe it. This was one of the greatest performances by a quarterback in Cowboys history."

Cowboys defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said he should take the blame because his unit allowed the 51 points.

"People will say, 'Tony Romo throws the interception, and we can't win the big one,'" Kiffin, the Bucs' former defensive coordinator, said. "He went toe to toe with one of the best ever in the game of football.

"But don't put that (loss) on him; you put that one on me."

You want clutch?

Romo holds the franchise record for come-from-behind victories with 18, more thanStaubach and Troy Aikman, and seventh in NFL history.

Consistency?

Romo has seven straight seasons with a rating of at least 90.0. Only Manning (2003-10) and Steve Young (1991-98) matched that. In fact, Romo's 96.6 career rating is fourth all time, ahead of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Dan Marino.

Staubach pointed out Romo hasn't had the defenses that he and Aikman had in their glory days. He always has had to try to be the "hero." Quarterbacks are often measured by playoff success, so Romo will keep taking shots until he wins a Super Bowl.

With the NFC East in a down year, the 2-3 Cowboys have a chance to take the division and garner Romo some more respect.

"He gets such an unjust, bad rap," said Redskins LB Ryan Kerrigan, whose team faces the Cowboys tonight. "The dude's a hell of a football player."

* * *

Power rankings

1. Broncos (5-0)

2. Seahawks (4-1)

3. Chiefs (5-0)

4. Saints (4-0)

5. Colts (5-1)

* * *

Upset special

Steelers over Jets

The Steelers are coming off a bye and desperate for a win while the better-than-we-thought Jets are coming off a Monday night win.

* * *

Biggest mismatch

If there was ever a need for a "mercy rule" in the NFL, Jacksonville at Denver today would be running-clock worthy. The Jaguars are 26 1/2-point underdogs, the biggest point spread since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Former Jaguars QB Mark Brunell calls the spread "ridiculous." But consider this: Denver scored 51 points last week against the Cowboys. The Jaguars have scored 51 points all season. As foxsports.com's David Whitley writes, "We're not talking about Jacksonville winning. We're talking about the Jaguars maintaining what's left of their dignity."

* * *

Knocking 'Knocks'

The Bucs' Greg Schiano is not the only coach who would like to avoid being forced to put his team on HBO's Hard Knocks. With the NFL securing the show last week, it reserves the right to "compel" teams to participate. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is ready to fight any attempt to give HBO 24/7 access. "It's a total distraction, and I think it's an embarrassment to players," Arians said in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "I think when players are released, some of the things that are said between coaches and players are too personal and nobody else's business."

* * *

Who's hot?

Colts: They've won three straight, including against NFC contendersSan Francisco and Seattle. Behind QB Andrew Luck and new RB Trent Richardson, Indianapolis is emerging as a Super Bowl contender.

* * *

Who's not?

Falcons: They were the popular preseason pick to win the NFC South. But at 1-4 and WR Julio Jones (foot) out for the season, it could be a grim season.

* * *

Quick reads

-Not sure if there's a better story in the NFL so far than the Chiefs, who are 5-0 after winning just two games a year ago. Coach Andy Reid and QB Alex Smith are making the most of their fresh starts.

-Coach Mike Smith calls the idea of the struggling Falcons trading TE Tony Gonzalez"preposterous." But it would be a cool story to see the future Hall of Famer finish his career where it started, in Kansas City, for one last shot at a Lombardi Trophy.

-Is there a coach as valuable to his team as Sean Payton? The Saints, who went 7-9 in 2012 while he served a one-year suspension for the bounty scandal, are 5-0 heading into today's showdown with the Patriots.

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Follow Joe Smith @TBTimes_JSmith.

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