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Cowboys 34, Giants 23

Last time the Cowboys won a playoff game, Tony Romo was wearing one of these jerseys ... in high school.
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The last time the Dallas Cowboys won a playoff game, you were paying $1.22 for gas, shouting “Show me the money!” at inappropriate times after watching Jerry Maguire and lamenting the Mavericks’ Jim Cleamons era.

Four-thousand twenty-nine days down, two to go.

Tony Romo was a high-school sophomore when the Cowboys beat the Minnesota Vikings, 40-15, on December 28, 1996. Since then it’s been an 11-year pratfall for America’s Team, from coach Dave Campo to quarterback Quincy Carter to draft pick Dwayne Goodrich.

That all ends Sunday.

Maybe it’s just me -- yeah, it’s definitely just me -- but I still believe the Cowboys are a better football team than the New York Giants. Regardless of Terrell Owens’ ankle and the Jessica Jinx and the perceived December swoon and the bandwagon of buffoons suddenly christening Eli as the second coming of Peyton. The Cowboys don’t need the ancillary advantages of mind games about T.O.’s status, a stadium dressed in white, 40,000 rally towels or performances by Brian McKnight or Neal McCoy. Having the Cowboys be the Cowboys and the Giants be the Giants will be good enough.

Yes, there are concerns. Distractions, even. Coach Wade Phillips is 0-3 in the playoffs. Romo is the only quarterback left in the playoffs without a post-season win. Only Cowboys with Super Bowl experience are Brad Johnson and Tank Johnson. Offensive coaches Jason Garrett and Tony Sparano have been interviewing for other jobs. Since Owens left the Carolina game with a sprained ankle, the offense has produced only four field goals in six quarters. In his last three games Romo threw one touchdown and five interceptions. Cannibalism is alive and well in Tyler.

And, my personal favorite, it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season. Really? NFL teams going for the three-sweep are 11-6. That’s a 65-percent success rate. Hard?

Cut through the bullshit, and there is more than a glimmer of hope. Remember, three plays into this season, on September 9 the Cowboys trailed the Giants, 7-0, courtesy of Eli’s 60-yard bomb to Plaxico Burress. Since then, Dallas has outscored New York, 76-48. The Cowboys beat the Giants in Texas Stadium and in The Meadowlands. How is it that they somehow can’t beat them in the playoffs?

The key, as it was during the regular season meetings, is Romo’s maneuverability. His instinctive ad-libs -- either a subtle slide in the pocket or a hair-on-fire scramble -- negate New York’s strength, the pass rush. The Giants count on defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora to create pressure and, in turn, mistakes. In Dallas’ two wins, Romo escaped their wrath and completed 35 of 52 passes for 592 yards, eight touchdowns and only two interceptions. (And remember, we still haven’t seen Patrick Crayton’s reverse pass. It’s in the playbook, itching to be scratched. Just sayin’.)

Romo’s temperament doesn’t hurt, either. A lot of quarterbacks would’ve been gutted and eternally ruined by last season’s Seattle slip-up. Or at least harassed into silence by questions about his Mexico jaunt. Thankfully, Romo remains Romo.

Reporter: “What about Bill Parcells’ commandment saying Thou Shall Not Be A Celebrity Quarterback?”

Romo: “You’re talking about a celebrity coach.”


The Cowboys will have a hobbled T.O. But the Giants will be without Jeremy Shockey.

The 7½-point line seems so dangerous even Mack Brown’s step-son wouldn’t touch it. But go ahead, grab it.

“I’m not sleeping at all I’m so nervous,” says Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. “But if you can’t get nervous at this time of year, you might as well go ahead and order the box.”

Even better, order tickets to next Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. --Richie Whitt

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