| Sports |

He Who Hesitates Endures a Very, Very, Very Long, Cold Winter

Not funny, sure. But, face it, who wants to see Tony Sparano.
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As expected, Dallas Cowboys assistant head coach Tony Sparano was officially named head coach of the Miami Dolphins this morning. What does it mean for him? A couple seasons of ugly losing with a horrible team and having his ass dog-cussed on a consistent basis by a horrible man. What does it mean for us? No more lame “Hhey, his name sounds like Tony Soprano!” one-liners and skits.

While we now wait for offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to mull head coaching offers from the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens -- my single dollar says owner Jerry Jones finds a way to convince him to stay here -- let’s take a detailed look back at Dallas’ last gasp on Sunday against the Giants. I know, I lied about moving on. But what’d you rather read, a meticulous breakdown of another Stars’ loss? Thought so.

Trailing 21-17, the Cowboys face third-and-11 from the Giants’ 23 with 21 seconds remaining. Welcome to a microcosm of a season that quickly deteriorated from Super Bowl to Britney Spears.

Tony Romo lines up in the shotgun. In order to slow down a Giants pass rush that’s harassed him the entire the second half, Dallas goes to its max protect -- keeping Marion Barber and Jason Witten in the backfield. Terrell Owens lines up in the slot to the right, drawing double coverage. Out wide of Owens is Patrick Crayton, single covered by cornerback Corey Webster. Sensing an advantage, Romo flashes a hand signal to Crayton, alerting him that the ball is more than likely headed his way.

The snap is back …

At the 19 -- legally within five yards of the line of scrimmage -- Webster confronts Crayton with a bump intended to impede his progress. In a subtle yet totally illegal maneuver, Crayton briefly tugs on Webster’s face mask, allowing the receiver to get around the cornerback and earn a full yard of separation. But running free at the 10, Crayton inexplicably and visibly slows down, almost to a complete stop. From the 10 to the 7-yard line, he turns over his left shoulder to look for the ball. Too late. By the time Crayton resumes running at full speed, he is just crossing the goal line as Romo’s perfectly thrown pass lands four yards into the end zone. Within two steps, Crayton’s right foot lands on the exact spot where the ball fell incomplete.

“If Patrick wouldn’t have slowed down, it would have been a touchdown,” coach Wade Phillips said Monday at Valley Ranch.

So, whahappun?

Crayton’s route, initially designed as a 15-yard out, should’ve been automatically ad-libbed into a “go” route once he got clear separation. Romo saw it. But Crayton wasn’t sure.

“I got on top of him and I was like, ‘Should I break out and let him sit underneath, or should I just go ahead and go?’” Crayton said Tuesday afternoon on Michael Irvin’s new ESPN 103.3 FM radio show. “That slight hesitation cost me that extra yard I probably needed.”

Like Crayton, the Cowboys bolted to early success and a sizable lead this season. But, not experienced enough to handle their own spoils, they too hesitated down the stretch. After starting 12-1 they let up, never to recover.

Ironic that another December swoon usually blamed on Bill Parcells’ micro-managing is this year attributed to Phillips’ laissez-faire attitude. Instead of squawking about another Staubachian comeback by Romo -- punctuated by the perfect pressurized throw to Crayton -- and anticipating this week’s NFC Championship match-up against Brett Favre, we’re left for a long winter of this. --Richie Whitt

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