By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
For more than a month, the Dallas Cowboys have operated under intense scrutiny for a football team already assured the home field advantage through the NFC playoffs. The commotion sounded like such whiny poor mouthing.
First, the Cowboys played poorly in a 10-6 loss at home to the Philadelphia Eagles in the infamous Jessica Simpson game. The Cowboys came back a week later and played well enough to clinch the home field with a 20-13 win at Carolina. Then, the Cowboys mailed in their regular season finale, a 27-6 loss to the Washington Redskins.
Suddenly, the sky is falling. Chicken Little rules the airwaves. A chorus of angels sings, “The Cowboys are doomed.” Next thing you know, Head Coach Wade Phillips gives the team three days off during their playoff bye week. So, Tony Romo and Jason Witten go to Cabo San Lucas with Simpson, stoking a scandal.
If you gave the Cowboys the benefit of your doubt through all that, you’re a fool today and, worse, the Cowboys made you a fool. If you kept your cool, figuring the Cowboys would know enough to handle their business when it mattered, you were wrong.
If you looked at the Cowboys with any inclination to believe they were due for a bad game by the time Philadelphia came around, if you thought the Washington game shouldn’t have mattered, if you supposed the Cowboys were taking reasonable measures to be refreshed for the playoffs, now it can be told – you over-estimated this team.
We plead guilty. We might have been the last publication to jump on the bandwagon, arguing through October that the Cowboys hadn’t beaten anyone. When the Cowboys finally put up wins against good teams like the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers, we climbed on the bandwagon. And when the rest of the world jumped off because the Cowboys played poorly when it didn’t matter, we stayed on because we expected that the Cowboys would play well when it mattered.
It mattered Sunday, and the Cowboys played poorly in a 21-17 loss at Texas Stadium to the Giants. Now, the Cowboys are out of the playoffs, still waiting for their first postseason win since 1996.
The wind will blame Romo for going to Cabo San Lucas with the blonde, but the entire team played so poorly that Romo could have gone to Mars and it wouldn’t have made a difference. Romo didn’t play one of his best games, but neither did the receivers, neither did the offensive line and neither, at key points, did the defense.
No good omen for the Cowboys went unanswered. Victory just sat there, waiting for the Cowboys to snatch it, and they continuously declined.
Through three quarters, the Cowboys held a 17-14 lead, keeping the ball for 28:14 of 45 minutes that had been played. Not only was the New York Giants defense bound to be tiring, but cornerback Aaron Ross left with a shoulder injury. Cornerback Sam Madison didn’t even dress for the game. So, the Cowboys held the lead against a tiring defense depleted in the secondary.
Somehow, the Cowboys couldn’t turn that scenario into a victory.
Romo went six-for-14 in the fourth quarter, taking two sacks, throwing an interception and taking a bizarre intentional grounding penalty. The Cowboys took additional penalties for illegal formation and false start. Too often, Romo tried to make 50-yard plays when he only needed 20 yards and the 20-yard plays were open.
The entire game featured foibles by receivers, including at least two bad drops by Patrick Crayton, who blew another touchdown catch by cutting his route short. Terry Glenn slipped in pattern, and Anthony Fasano dropped a touchdown pass on the goal line. Terrell Owens played, but the Giants effectively single covered him because he clearly wasn’t 100 percent. The Cowboys took 11 penalties in the game, costing themselves 84 yards.
But you really knew the Cowboys were in trouble at the end of the second half, after their 10-minute, 20-play drive led to a touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 53 seconds left before intermission. The Cowboys couldn’t even hold New York to a field goal before halftime. The Giants drove to a touchdown, 71 yards in seven plays, aided by a face-masking penalty against the Cowboys.
Everyone ended up being right about the Cowboys, even if everyone was right at different times of the year. The Cowboys don’t have what it takes.
The fourth quarter rattled Romo, who normally is so resourceful. For all his talents, Romo is yet to prove himself the equal of the big game. Now, he’s 0-2 in the playoffs, Phillips is 0-4 in the playoffs and the team’s owner, Jerry Jones, still hasn’t built a playoff winner without Jimmy Johnson’s lifting.
Part of the problem with the Cowboys, it seems, is that they’re not about being a football team. They’re about being the Cowboys, the multi-platform entertainment and promotional colossus. But some of us still believed in the last few weeks that a championship football team might lurk beneath the glitz and glam.
We were wrong.