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Cowboys vs. Giants: What went wrong?

The season is over just like that. One night of sleep has yet to wash away all those mistakes and blunders that doomed the Cowboys and their fans to playoff irrelevance once again. It’s been so long since we had the taste of victory in the real season, the playoffs.

I don’t come to praise this edition of the Cowboys, but I don’t come to bury them either. In a months time we’ll be past this current disappointment and we’ll be planning our attack for 2008. Remember that and you’ll hang on to your sanity, albeit by a thread if you’re feeling anything like me. But that’s the forward-looking view, what happens when you take a look back, to Sunday?

Certain themes and arguments are already starting to cement themselves as to what went wrong and they’re popping up on this blog as well. They’re causing some other readers much consternation. But before you dive headlong into the breach and start hacking away with your swords at all non-believers in your cause, ponder this notion: There is hardly a player on this team that didn’t have some hand in the loss to the Giants. So anybody blaming one or two guys only for the game is not seeing the forest for the trees, and anybody who defends a player overzealously is probably doing that more out of love for the player than the facts on the field.

There was no single element that blew it here. Obviously some are more culpable than others and you can argue to what degree, although I say it’s an exercise in futility. There were moments throughout that game where guys could have made a difference and it didn’t happen.

For example:

If Greg Ellis or Anthony Henry tackle Amani Toomer instead of letting him run free for a TD the game might have gone differently. If the defense stops the Giants on the drive before halftime the game might have changed. If Jacques Reeves doesn’t give up a pass and a facemask penalty it’s a different game. If Tony Romo doesn’t flutter a pass over the head of a wide-open T.O. for a probable TD instead of a FG at the beginning of the second half, it’s a different game. If the offensive line would quit getting dead ball penalties (and one costly live ball penalty) than maybe some of our drives end up with scores. If Andre Gurode could perform a decent shotgun snap maybe Romo has a little more time. If Patrick Crayton doesn’t drop a sure first-down, possible big-play pass, then we could be playing next weekend. If Anthony Fasano could catch a pass on the goal line then maybe the Packers would be coming to town. If Romo doesn’t take two awful sacks when he could throw the ball away and later not pick up a grounding penalty, then his vacation would be moot. Where was T.O. in the second half, he couldn’t shake loose a banged-up Giants secondary? What happened to the pass protection down the stretch that had Romo throwing off the back foot and scrambling for his life? The players didn’t execute, plain and simple. The coaching staff bears equal responsibility for having a team play so undisciplined, for not making the proper adjustments in the second half and their team not playing up to the talent level on the field.

Those were just things I came up with off the top of my head before reviewing the game film. If you watch the game again carefully, I bet you’ll come up with a handful or two of examples of failure. Just as I’m writing this I remembered the special teams coverage units that were awful on the day. We lost the field position battle because of special teams and penalties.

I guess the point of this post is that singling out one player or thing that caused this loss is a futile exercise. Equally, defending your favorite player against the slings and arrows of others may make you feel better, but it doesn’t make it factual.

Let’s take Tony Romo. He had some really good moments in the first half but struggled in the second half. Does it have anything to do with his vacation? I don’t think so. Does it have to do with him not executing on a few plays? Yes, the miss of T.O. was a bad mistake. He also made some bad judgment calls like holding on to the ball for too long and some other questionable decisions. But, if Patrick Crayton doesn’t pull up short, just for a moment, on the bomb at the end of the game, then Romo throws the winning TD pass. Or if his line didn’t fall apart in the 4th quarter he might have picked apart an ailing Giants secondary. He was culpable in the loss but some of his teammates helped him. That’s what I’m saying, the whole thing is interconnected. Once you start blaming one guy, you’ll start blaming others.

And I leave this game with two thoughts about Tony Romo. One, he has trouble closing out seasons and winning playoff games. For whatever reason, he’s had the same pattern for two years now. For me, that just a fact and it’s something that he will have to dispel one day or his time in Dallas won’t be remembered fondly. On the other hand, I think the guy is fully capable of getting us to the Promised Land one day. If I can’t have Brady or Manning, looking at the next five years, I think Romo is as promising as any QB out there. So I can bury him for this game and the past two playoff defeats, but I can also praise him for his ability and what I think will be his future successes. It’s not always a black and white world out there; there are lots of shades of gray.

That’s the way I feel about a lot of guys on this team. And the coaching staff to some degree. Wade Phillips, you did a great job getting us to 13-3, but your team wasn’t ready to win a playoff game that was there for the taking. Your playoff record is now 0-4. Suspicion will continue to build as to whether you can win the big games. Until you do it, just like Romo, heavy will rest the crown.

Until this team finally gets its act together in the postseason, we’ll all eye them with some suspicion. They are the ones who lost the game, not just a few of them. Listen to T.O., who actually broke-down crying while defending his teammates, especially his QB. He said put this loss on the team. That they all lost that game.

I couldn’t agree more.