Thirteen wins. Twelve Pro Bowlers. Seven-point favorites. Giants 21, Cowboys 17.
Zero playoff wins in 11 years … and counting. Let’s shovel some shit, toss some accusations and lay some blame, shall we?
Wade Phillps: You’ve got the second-best team in football and you’re playing at home against a team you beat twice in the regular season. So you change your lineup and alter your philosophy? Who do you think you are, Avery Johnson?
In sitting center Erick Dampier before the Golden State series, Johnson alerted his team that they’d have to play differently to beat the underdog Warriors than they did during a 67-win regular season. Wade made the same mistake. Saying he wanted to “reward” Marion Barber for a great regular season, he started him in place of running back Julius Jones. Giant mistake.
Barber led the NFL in fourth-quarter rushing yards, but managed only four on four carries down the stretch yesterday. Why? Because instead of pounding him on a tired defense late, the Cowboys inexplicably turned Barber into Earl Campbell early. A toxic mix of ill-prepared and unprepared, the Cowboys also committed an unthinkable 11 penalties. Make excuses if you want, but Phillips’ playoff record is now 0-4. Toldja they should’ve hired Norv Turner.
Jerry Jones: He gets my vote for NFL Executive of the Year, but he also needs to get tougher. Screw returning favors and “helping” your staff, next time another team wants to interview your assistants during the playoffs, tell them “Hell no!” Saddest sight of all yesterday was Jerry slowly, solemnly walking off the field, flanked by two security guards who might as well have been pall bearers. He must have picked the Cowboys too.
Jason Garrett: The game’s brightest young offensive mind got too conservative against a depleted New York defense begging to be kicked in the 'nads. By the third quarter the Giants were reeling. Already missing cornerbacks Sam Madison and Kevin Dockery, they were gouged by Dallas drives of 96 and 90 yards. And, now, cornerback Aaron Ross was leaving the field dragging his arm, replaced by -- I swear -- a dude who wasn’t on the Giants’ roster. But instead of attacking Geoffery Pope, whose NFL bio reads about as impressively as yours and mine, Garrett was resigned to dink and dunk. Ridiculous, really, since the end result was the Cowboys not having a pass completion longer than 20 yards after leading the NFL in that category during the season.
Whoever Is in Charge of Texas Stadium Music: Facing third-and-goal at New York’s one late in the first half, guess what came a blaring over the loud speakers? Give you a million guesses. A techno remix of “Sweet Caroline”. No kidding. Even worse, as the game ended and the Cowboys left the field -- except for Terry Glenn and Keith Davis, who sat crying on the bench -- the same moron decided it would be a good idea to play Semisonic’s “Closing Time.” Nice.
Leonard Davis: The biggest dude on the team made perhaps the day’s largest fuck-up. With Dallas seemingly in control -- leading 17-14 and with the ball -- quarterback Tony Romo hit Jason Witten for a 10-yard pass and a first down out to Dallas’ 33. Whoa. Instead, Davis decided to perform an Ultimate Fighting pile driver atop Michael Strahan, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Instead of first and 10, Dallas was faced with second and 18 from its own 12. Nine plays later, the Cowboys trailed for good.
Anthony Fasano: The second tight end again failed to make the tough catch. Sure Gibril Wilson was in his grill at the goal line, but Romo’s pass ultimately caromed off Fasano’s chest early in the third quarter. It was a four-point drop. Instead of 21-14, Dallas settled for a 17-14 lead that wouldn’t be enough.
Special Teams Coach Bruce Read: Your stock is falling faster than Julius Jones’ trade value. The Cowboys, mediocre all season, were horrible yesterday, surrendering a key 45-yard kickoff return that tilted field position and a 25-yard punt return that set up the Giants’ winning touchdown. Horrible tackling by captain Keith Davis.
Patrick Crayton: Here’s an idea: Shut. Up. Once again this week you proved you are an All-Pro smack-talker but nothing better than a No. 3 receiver. With Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn basically playing on one leg each, this was your day. And how’d you respond? Three catches for 27 yards, one costly drop and inexcusable fatigue.
Leading by three and faced with third and 13 from Dallas’ 17, Romo produced a David Blaine escape, scramble and sidearm rocket that hit Crayton all alone and in stride at the 30. Drop. Instead of first down -- maybe even a touchdown -- it was fourth down. The ensuing punt led to New York’s winning drive. And with 4:03 remaining and Dallas desperate for yards and time, Romo had to burn a timeout when Crayton was winded and could only slowly trot out to his position. Yes, there’s more.
On Dallas’ second-to-last play, Crayton -- who knows why? -- dramatically slowed up at New York’s five-yard line. Romo’s pass was one step too far, but would’ve been perfectly on target. The worst part? The loquacious Crayton was conveniently mute after the game.
Terrell Owens: The ball landed 10 yards from me. More importantly, it landed one yard from T.O.’s foot. Down four and faced with third and 20 from its 49 with 3:54 remaining, Romo lofted a deep ball. Owens, who had a step on safety James Butler, had to slow up for the woefully underthrown pass. But after slowing, he did, basically, nothing. The ball landed harmlessly on the goal line as T.O. neither dived nor even as much as stuck his hands out.
Again, the dude can make the easy catch look pretty. But he can also make the hard catch look ugly. And incomplete. “It’s hard. I can’t explain it,” T.O. said in the post-game interview room. “This year we felt like we were destined to get to the Super Bowl.” In two playoff games for the Cowboys, Owens has six catches for 75 yards. He did, however, begin to sniffle when he talked about Romo. Says here that his tears are as authentic as Barry Bonds’ homers.
You: As in you, of course, I mean the soulless City of Dallas. Choke City. I dunno, we’re just cursed. Maybe it has something to do with being a shallow, materialistic glob of plastic humanity more consumed with fake boobs than genuine heart. No guts. No glory. We’re soft and, come playoff time, it shows. The Cowboys, the Stars, the Mavericks, FC Dallas and even the Desperados -- all first-round playoff losers.
This one was eerily similar to the Mavs, eh? A record 67-15 regular season; a record 13-3 regular season. Reliant upon the jump shot; reliant upon the big play. Big home favorites in the first round; big home favorites in the first round. Sickening upset loss; sickening upset loss. Mavs were the NBA’s first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8. The Cowboys are the NFC’s first No. 1 seed to lose in the divisional round since 1990's format change. Admit it, you suck. And to think, the NFL’s winningest franchise now holds the record for losing six consecutive playoff games. Worst of all, this might have been the last playoff game ever at Texas Stadium.
Last, but certainly not least, Tony Romo:
I’m not saying it directly affected his play.
I’m not saying it was technically or ethically wrong.
I’m just saying that -- book it -- next time the Cowboys have a bye week before a playoff game the quarterback won’t travel south of the border. Or, for that matter, south of LBJ.
All you needed to know about Romo’s trip to Mexico and the perception of a Jessica Jinx was summed up by the publication assigned a seat next to mine yesterday: People magazine.
“It’ll be a tough week, and I’ll take the blame and the criticism,” Romo said after the game, wearing an unbuttoned brown shirt, hair a mess and generally looking disheveled like, you guessed it, a guy coming off a weekend partying in Mexico. “I don’t live with regrets. I’m content in my own skin. I made what I thought was a good decision to get away with my own people. It wasn’t like I was drinking for two days in Las Vegas.”
Maybe that would’ve been better. Because when Romo needed to be spectacular yesterday, he was painfully average. He sent a hideous flutterball sailing over the head of an open T.O. in the second quarter near the goal line. He underthrew Owens late. He took sacks when he should’ve thrown it away, and he got called for intentional grounding when he could’ve held onto the ball longer.
After the game he hustled to midfield for a quick congratulations to Eli Manning, then sprinted up the tunnel and into his second consecutive heart-breaking, season-ending press conference.
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“It hurts,” said Romo, a very pedestrian 35 of 61 for 390 yards and only two touchdowns in two playoff losses. “It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
So which one hurts worse, Seattle or New York?
Said Romo, “They both suck.”
Tell us about it. --Richie Whitt