How could it have ended any other way? It was such a familiar outcome that looking back on it seems disgustingly routine. Just when you put your tiny heart into hoping for this team to do well, it gets crushed as it has so many, many times before.
One playoff victory isn't nearly accurate enough to gauge the agony of the past 16 years of watching this franchise. Every year, there's been hope of a breakthrough, to the "glory hole" days as a not-so-wise man would say. And every year there's imminent disappointment.
While this year didn't feel like the most talented iteration of Cowboys, they seemed to have a fight about them that gave you faith. Ultimately it's now that fight that sees them on the couch again, looking at a mediocre first-round pick ... again.
It feels like it's going to be a long time until the Cowboys feel the glory of postseason success, especially considering who's at the wheel of the franchise. Dallas seems to have the talent to win the division in 2013, but if they keep shooting at their own feet they may not get the chance. Let's make a few observations and hand out some awards in the most somber of manners.
Injuries Mount, Team Continues To Fight The finest trait of this 2012 squad has been its ability to battle through injuries. Over half of the defensive starters and several key offensive pieces going down could have been an easy alibi for a 4-12 outcome. Instead, the Cowboys plucked guys from deep on the roster and off the street and cobbled together a team that nearly made the playoffs.
It would be fitting, then, for the injuries to reach a horribly ironic level by the end of this game. First, Miles Austin sprains his ankle. Then Anthony Spencer sprains his ankle. Then Dez Bryant hurts his back just before the big rally. After the game it was revealed that Tony Romo suffered a cracked rib following a blind side blitzer's shot to his midsection in the second quarter. After all of that, the Cowboys were still down by 3 points with the ball with 3 minutes to go.
Romo Opera Hits Another Sour Note In a career that has been defined by elite levels of both great and terrible, Romo had yet another of his inopportune stinkers. It's going to be a sad day when Romo doesn't put on the Cowboys jersey anymore, and if moments like this are all we have to remember him by, then that's a shame. Without him there'd be no playoff berth on the line in Week 17, but then there's the Seattle game ... and Chicago ... and the second game with the Giants ... and ...
His three-interception performance last night will surely stoke the fires of the anti-Romo faction out there, but he's really the best option for the way this team is built.
Cowboys Defense, Bleh Going up against Robert Griffin III wasn't going to be easy. Even with a gimpy knee, the turkey-sub shiller eviscerated the Cowboys defense. Announcers Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth squealed with delight as they rolled through a montage of Griffin torching Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer on the zone read. Time after time Griffin would fake the handoff and dash past a lurching Ware to the tune of 10.5 yards per carry.
When Griffin wasn't running free in the Cowboys' secondary, he was pitching it to his buddy Alfred Morris, who raked up 200 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. Toss play after toss play saw Morris scissor his way through blockers, eating up acreage along the way. It was made all the more sickening as it seemed the Cowboys defense didn't give up, they just couldn't keep up.
And now for a few painfully bitter awards.
The Why Roughing-The-Punter Should Be Legal Award: Sav Rocca What a jerk. The guy and the play, that is. You can see a great shot of it at the top of this post. As Dwayne Harris is streaking down the sidelines on a punt return, Rocca grabs Harris' facemask and twists him down by it, knowing full well it'll merely cost 15 yards and potentially save a touchdown. I've never heard of a player being fined or suspended for this type of play, but this should be looked at by the league.
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SHOW ME HOW
It may sound like sour grapes now, but if the league is going to fine players for horse-collar tackles and not violent facemasks, they're going to have a lot of 'splaining to do when a guy gets facemasked into a wheelchair while they sit on their fat fingers.
The Defensive Good Try, Good Effort Award: Anthony Spencer He may have gotten fooled a few times by the zone read, but Spencer made the best defensive play of the night by far. Deep in the 4th quarter , facing third and 8 at the Dallas 37, Griffin dropped back and was greeted thirteen negative yards later with meaty Spencer bearhug. The play would eliminate the possibility of a field goal and give the Cowboys offense three minutes to get three points. The surge of momentum had swung fully Dallas' way, then ... yeah.
The Reason To Look Forward To 2013 Award: Dwayne Harris Obviously the stars on both sides of the ball will be back next year, with the possible exception of Spencer, but Harris is the one to keep an eye on. Showcasing brilliant punt return abilities, he gave fans a tiny taste of his receiving skills over the past few weeks, including a fingertip grab of the two-point conversion late in the Redskins game. With Austin's health status a near-perpetual question, Harris could be a quality, cheap complement to Dez Bryant, essentially filling the role Kevin Ogletree has failed to cement at this point.
It's been a wild season. One that at one point didn't seem like it would end with the possibility of a playoff. Alas, another year goes by with Romo walking slump-shouldered off the field. Business that's been scattered about for seven years remains unfinished. Next year will bring with it renewed optimism and reasons to believe, but for now one can only look back with a wincing, twitching eye, wishing we hadn't seen what we just saw.