There was a moment - a brief, ephemeral moment - when I actually thought Tony Romo was going to run his botched snap in for a touchdown. I thought I was watching disaster averted and in its place the sweetest TD I could remember. In that instant, Romo and the Dallas Cowboys tricked me like they had all year. They were only setting me up for the crushing blow; they were teasing me with their talent, like they teased us all year long. When Romo was tackled before the endzone - even more importantly - before the first down marker, it was then that I realized I'd been suckered, duped, bamboozled. I was Charlie Brown, trying to kick the football, but mean ol' Lucy pulled it out from under me. I was flat on my backside seeing stars.
Everything about this year's team was unfulfilled promises. Nothing ended up being as good as advertised. Within a 15 minute span, all of the Cowboys failings were on display. Poised on the brink of scoring a TD that would've have given them an 11-point lead with 10 minutes left in the game, they couldn't gain half a yard. An offensive line that was supposed to be physically intimidating at the beginning of the year was beat back by a smaller defense. True to form, even the coaches were complicit in this failure. Instead of calling a QB sneak like most of the known universe, Bill Parcells elected to hand it off. Replays show an easy hole for Romo between Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier, but like most of the year, this team wouldn't take what was given to them.
Next, it was the offense's turn to inflict damage, on themselves. The defense had just gotten off the field with a brilliant goal line stand that left the Seahawks empty-handed and on the brink of elimination. Terry Glenn caught a pass, immediately fell, and eventually fumbled, all leading to a safety. Dallas is sitting on a seven point lead with 6:32 left in the game so they throw a safe pass to one of their most dependable receivers, a guy who never fumbles. Like all their other broken promises, he fumbled.
A defense that was under fire for the last month finally started to fulfill its promise by playing an outstanding game. Now, they were backed up to the wall, and needed to make a stand. The offense had left them at a disadvantage after the safety because Seattle got the ball at midfield. You can't blame this defense for the loss, but they couldn't make the big play when the time presented itself. The Seahawks went through them like Paris Hilton goes through boyfriends. In just over two minutes Dallas had coughed up a seven point lead to fall behind by one point.
Finally Romo, the guy who had so much promise when he first started playing, was once again going to show that promise, he was going to make us all believe again, and he did. He marched his team down to the 2-yard line and the winning FG. Redemption was at hand for an entire team, an entire organization, an entire fan base. In the blink of an eye it was over. I went from disbelief that he fumbled the snap, to hope beyond all hope that he was going to run it in, to total devastation.
The Dallas Cowboys were a team that wouldn't take control of the #2 seed in the NFC when the opportunity presented itself. They were a team that wouldn't take the NFC East crown when it was presented to them. Now, they are a team that wouldn't take a playoff win when it was delivered up on a silver platter.
It's hard to pin-down what went wrong this year. The candidates for failure are numerous. They had an offense that could score points, but not in the games that really mattered. A defense that was a league-leader for 2/3rds of the season, and a laughing stock for the other 1/3. A QB who can make the most remarkable plays you've ever seen, only to drop a routine snap during anything but a routine FG. Whenever it really mattered this year, this team couldn't help itself. It could never fulfill the promise it teased.
Where they go from here is anybody's guess. Tony Romo will have to spend the entire offseason thinking about that play, and then he will have to spend an entire season living it down. Changes could be coming in many forms, all starting at the top with Bill Parcells. But whatever they do, they need to start thinking about bringing in a few guys who can win under pressure. They need some leadership in the locker room, leadership from guys who know how to meet expectations. This Dallas team talks a good game; they even play some good games, but never when it's important.
It was said of Tony Romo earlier this season that he was the coolest customer in the pool hall. He was the guy who would sink the 8-ball and walk away with your money. On this night, he had the 8-ball sitting on the lip of the corner pocket. Instead of sinking it, he ripped the felt on the table with his cue and sent the cue-ball over the railing for a game-ending scratch. It was emblematic of a team all year that scratched when something important came up.