By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
And you thought there was nothing more disgusting than 2 Girls 1 Cup. Though it's tough to trump the shocking Internet phenomenon, what happened at Texas Stadium last Sunday is even more repulsive.
Are you shittin' me? Barf!
After quarterback Tony Romo's pass is intercepted in the end zone in the final seconds, he sprints off the field like a panicked man running from reality. Teammate Jason Witten leaves in tears. Numbed with heartbreak, Keith Davis and Terry Glenn sit on the bench in stunned silence. Owner Jerry Jones, resigned that his team's best chance for a Super Bowl in 11 years has vanished, walks solemnly up the locker room tunnel, flanked by two security guards who might as well be pallbearers.
"This is my biggest disappointment," says Jones, assessing his 19-year reign. "We missed a great opportunity."
Adds Romo, "It's a tough pill to swallow."
Concludes head coach Wade Phillips with the early leader for Understatement of the Year, "It's disappointing, obviously."
This is not your father's Cowboys playoff defeat. It's worse. Bigger than losing The Ice Bowl to the Green Bay Packers in 1967 (that team was a heavy underdog) and badder than losing the NFC Championship Game to the San Francisco 49ers in 1995 (that team already had two titles).
The pain of this loss is exacerbated by what the Cowboys were poised to win.
After a record-setting regular season, America's Team was back where it belonged—popular and prosperous. With Phillips loosening the reins and players like Romo and Terrell Owens and Marion Barber and DeMarcus Ware reaching their potential, the Cowboys were the NFL's second-best team behind the flawless New England Patriots. Dallas won 13 games. Sported 12 Pro Bowlers. Finished No. 1 in merchandise sales. All that stood between them and Super Bowl XLII were home wins over two teams they defeated in the regular season. Against the Giants, they were 7 1/2-point favorites.
But the legacy of the 2007 Cowboys won't be what they did September through December, but what they didn't do on January 13, 2008. One and done. Nauseating.
The NFL's winningest franchise is now also its biggest loser, dropping a record six consecutive playoff games. Unfortunately, 'Boys will be 'Boys. The longest post-season drought in team history—one that began December 28, 1996—remains a living, breathing monster.
Even more sickening, this could've been the Cowboys' final playoff game at Texas Stadium.
It's revolting not only that they lost, but how they lost. The Cowboys outgained the Giants by 106 yards. Had seven more first downs, 13 more minutes of possession and ran 27 more plays. They held Eli Manning to 12 completions, receiver Plaxico Burress to one catch, produced touchdown drives of 96 and 90 yards and committed just one turnover. Owens and Glenn played hurt, Randy White and Michael Irvin served as inspirational honorary captains and the rabid sellout blanketed the lame-duck stadium in a sea of white.
Said Phillips the day after, "I certainly feel like the best team lost the game."
But in the final autopsy, there's plenty blame to go around.
Cornerback Anthony Henry, taking a page from Roy Williams' wallop-without-wrapping-up school of tackling, allowed New York's first touchdown. Special teams captain Davis blew a tackle on R.W. McQuarters' key punt return. And what in the name of Avery Johnson was Phillips thinking? Superior teams playing at home aren't supposed to alter their lineups or their philosophies. Avery sat center Erick Dampier before Game 1 in the loss to the Warriors. Saying he wanted to "reward" Barber, Phillips started him in place of Julius Jones. Giant mistake. Barber led the NFL in fourth-quarter rushing yards, but managed only four on four tired carries down the stretch last Sunday.
Most culpable, however, is the offense in general and Romo in particular.
I'd have bet your house that limiting New York to 21 points would've been enough to win. It was during the regular season. Twice.
When the Cowboys peaked—in retrospect, it was the first half against the Packers on November 29—their offense camouflaged all shortcomings with 40 points per game. In two wins over the Giants they amassed 45 and 31 points. But in their last two home games, they managed only a measly 6 against the Philadelphia Eagles and 17 against the Giants, with only a field goal in the second half.
The offensive line produced weak snaps, killer penalties and allowed Romo to get harassed like never before this season. The Cowboys didn't throw deep against a depleted Giants secondary featuring an undrafted rookie—Geoffrey Pope—playing his first NFL game. Tight end Anthony Fasano dropped a touchdown. Loquacious receiver Patrick Crayton botched a crucial pass, inexplicably slowed up on what would've been a game-winning touchdown and forced Romo to burn a precious timeout when he half-assed it to his position. Owens, who sniffled through the sorrow afterward, contributed only four catches for 49 yards.
Still, after the typically Tony underhand shovel to Witten, you just knew it was Romo to the rescue. Right? Nope. A first down at New York's 22 with 31 seconds remaining resulted in a penalty, a 4-yard completion, two incompletions and the season-ending interception to McQuarters.