By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Thank you, Tony Romo.
For an imperfect end. To a perfect season.
Were you watching the game? Were you watching the last month? Even if Romo produces a good hold and Martin Gramatica makes a 19-yard field goal and Dallas takes a 23-21 lead with 1:15 left, you really think Roy Williams and that confounding defense would've stopped Seattle from driving 40-ish yards for its game-winning field goal? Furthermore, you really believe a Cowboys offense that mustered one lousy touchdown against the Seahawks' patchwork secondary would've put up points this weekend in Chicago?
If you're heartbroken and hard-headed enough to consider Romo's blunder an epic gaffe that cost America's Team a legitimate shot at winning its record sixth Super Bowl, take another gulp of Jerry Jones' Kool-Aid. For the rest of us, dab the tears and commence the cheers.
Tony's RoNo! is a good thing. A very good thing.
Because while a solid hold, a straight kick and a slim victory in Seattle would've applied a Band-Aid to the Cowboys' terminal tumor, the loss instead bares their numerous physical and philosophical deficiencies for viewing, examination and, hopefully, repair.
Excruciating? More like invigorating. There's a silver-haired lining to Dallas' defeat, and it's not only the imminent departure of head coach Bill Parcells.
In the short term, no one will feel worse than Romo. And his mental health will likely deteriorate when jackass sportswriters drum up snarky shit such as:
Bravo. By losing the game and then facing the music, Romo reinforced our belief that it's time for neither the anointing oil nor the embalming fluid.
Sure, his head got too big, his hands too small and his feet were tripped up at the 1-yard line in the season's last two losses, but Romo proved he's the Cowboys' quarterback of the future. If nothing else, that makes this season a success.
Jackie Smith drops a touchdown pass in a four-point Super Bowl and disappears from football. Romo drops a snap in a Wild Card playoff game and shows up at Valley Ranch a month later, dedicated to becoming less like the quarterback whose wild ad-libs belong only on a sandlot and more like the quarterback whose wily accuracy thrust him onto Hawaii's beaches at the Pro Bowl.
"It won't be any time soon," Romo said, "but eventually I'll start thinking about next season."
The Cowboys were inches from an NFC semifinal berth. But, admit it, they're miles from consistently contending for a Super Bowl.
With pristine health, a favorable stretch schedule and a crappy conference, the table was set. But after ascending to 8-4, Dallas pulled up a chair and vomited on its veal. The Cowboys deteriorated from Jones labeling their four-game November winning streak "the best football we've played in 10 years" into Parcells lambasting them as "non-competitive" in a Christmas loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Despite coveted weapons at every skill position, the offense never attacked a Seattle secondary literally employing players who a month earlier were closing loans and guiding hunting tours. Inexplicably refusing to throw deep, Dallas completed just 17 passes for a measly 189 yards against a defense recently shredded by the listless Arizona Cardinals. And, after Romo's uh-oh, a defense stacked with 10 high draft choices or high-dollar free agents couldn't get the ball from Seattle in a reasonable time despite having three timeouts and the Seahawks pinned at their own 2, certain to be conservative. Williams, the most ridiculous selection in the history of the Pro Bowl, surrendered two touchdown passes, and one baffling scheme featured DeMarcus Ware—the team's best and only pass-rushing threat—covering receivers 15 yards from the line of scrimmage.
A season that started with Super Bowl aspirations in Oxnard ended in a first-round loss in Seattle with the Cowboys counting on key contributions from training camp ghosts named Romo, Gramatica, Miles Austin and Tony Parrish. As the off-season begins, Dallas has a defense that doesn't know if it's a 3-4 or a 4-3 and glaring needs for a cover safety, a pass rusher, a blocking kicker, a reliable holder and—lest we forget—a play-making receiver.
Bad to the last drop, Terrell Owens capped his underwhelming season with two catches for 26 yards. His "getcha popcorn ready" pronouncement amounted to two kernels, a couple grains of salt and one drip of butter.
All the blame, of course, can be slapped on Parcells' ample ass. After four years, a 34-32 record, zero playoff wins and more cantankerous press briefings than Donald Rumsfeld, he's headed for the Hall of Fame without sniffing the Ring of Honor.