On a day when Wade Phillips looked like George Costanza stuffed in his Gortex coat and on a day when Tony Romo looked like Brad Johnson draped in his four turnovers, the Dallas Cowboys still looked like a playoff team.
Until the final 12 minutes, that is.
On a brutally Pittsburghish day, the Cowboys outplayed the Steelers until it mattered in a demoralizing 20-13 loss. Dallas led 13-3 and stopped Pittsburgh on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 12:20 remaining.
Rookie Tashard Choice was surprisingly productive. The defense was spectacular. Aggression and emotion lined every Cowboys' move. Everything had to go wrong for Dallas to somehow lose this game.
And I'll be damned if it didn't.
To me, the trouble started when the Cowboys got ultra-conservative.
Coming out from their end zone after the goal-line stand, they faced third-and-5 from their 19. Romo was awful, but most of the day managed to find Jason Witten when it mattered. But instead of a move-the-chains pass, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett called a move-the-clock draw to Choice, who was dragged down for a loss by Troy Polamalu.
It seemed at that point the Cowboys were no longer trying to win the game, just not to lose it.
A long Pittsburgh punt return, a bank-shot field goal, yet another horrible kick return by Pacman Jones, an iffy spot on a fourth-down quarterback sneak by Ben Roethlisberger and a Steelers' touchdown later, the Cowboys were suddenly faced with a tie game and the onus of moving the ball. Flipping the offensive switching in that weather against that defense was too much. Turns out the flip, in fact, was frozen.
Faced with second-and-8 from its 17 and 1:51 remaining, Romo first mis-read and then air-mailed Witten. Deshea Townsend took the gift - payback for Neil O'Donnell's interceptions to Larry Brown in Super Bowl XXX? - 25 yards for the game-clinching touchdowns.
The Cowboys were outscored, 17-0, over the final 7:15.
There was a lot to like today. But, let's face it, when Romo isn't Romo, the Cowboys are just another team.
Said Romo, "This one's on me."
I still think this team wins two of its last three to find the post-season. But does this game prove they're not serious Super Bowl contenders? - Richie Whitt