Welcome to a somber edition of What They're Saying - but with a dash of optimism. There's no getting away from the feeling that we left money on the table after that game. A record of 9-4 looks miles away from our current 8-5 in this pile-up for the NFC wild card. Heck, we could have even entertained thoughts of catching the Giants in the division by beating them on Sunday night, if we had held on against the Steelers. Then there's the psychological effect on the team, it can go one of two ways. A crushing loss that dashes their season or a galvanizing moment that points to post-season glory. Only the next few weeks will answer that question.
But the Cowboys players answered some questions from reporters after the game, so take the jump below to see what they thought.
Ah, Tony Romo. What to say about the kid from Wisconsin? Right now, I'd probably say think about ball security. The fact that Dallas turned the ball over five times, four by Romo, and was still in the game really speaks to the play on defense. If Romo took care of the ball we win this game. No, this loss isn't solely on Romo, special teams were an issue again, the defense stumbled at the end, the receivers were having issues with some routes and Cory Procter had to play (never a good sign).
We know what Romo can do when he's on his game. So we wait for him to turn it on in December and the playoffs. He's the QB for me, but I can't ignore the problems he's had late in seasons. This year, show something new Tony. Still, you got to love the guy especially when he takes full responsibility for what happened, even the last INT which was the stake through the heart.
"This one's on me," said Romo, who threw three picks and lost a fumble. "As a quarterback, you can't turn the ball over that many times and expect to win, especially in an environment like this."
Romo's best buddy on the team covered for him by taking the blame.
"It's totally on me, completely," said [Jason] Witten, who was the first player to talk in the locker room and repeated the message to a different group of reporters after getting dressed. "Tony trusted me on that, and I slipped coming out of the break. He threw it exactly where it was supposed to go, and I cost us the game.
"You dream about those situations. You want the ball in your hands. We had success on it earlier. The quarterback has confidence to come to you, and you come and slip out of the break.
"It was all on me."
Romo was having none of it.
"It doesn't matter whether it was a slip or a miscommunication," he said. "I threw it where he wasn't. That's on me.
"We didn't win. If I had done a few things differently, we would have won."
He knows, and we can only hope that this was a potent reminder not to get sloppy with the football the rest of the season. We still need him to make plays and occasionally dazzle us like the TD to T.O., but turnovers will beat any team along the way and we can't afford to lose again.
The Cowboys defense managed to cause two turnovers, only to be trumped by the five given way by the offense and special teams. But the defense still managed to hold the Cowboys in the game and made a brilliant goal line stand in the fourth quarter that looked like it might be the game-winner. Even Pittsburgh fans I've talked to thought that was going to be the defining moment in the game. A guy who made a big play on the stand is the same guy whose game has elevated recently. He was involved in both Pittsburgh turnovers. Bradie James has been playing out of his head recently.
"People were talking about their defense, and we weren't getting any credit," Bradie James said. "I definitely think we stepped up to the plate and showed up today and made plays.
"But we didn't make enough plays to win."
Ah, not enough to win. That's the kicker, although you could say they did make the plays to win but the offense and special teams decided to nullify that performance. But these guys aren't saying that.
"It's not enough if you don't win," Marcus Spears said. "There's nothing you can say to make it feel better."
"I think we're finally coming together," Zach Thomas said. "But still, we're inconsistent on a couple of drives. That's it. You can't give up the big play."
Indeed, they gave up a few big plays, including the much talked about third and 16 bomb to Santonio Holmes that revived the Steelers flagging hopes and flipped the field for what was about to come. Terence Newman was the culprit and Wade Phillips was pretty pointed in his frustration over that play.
"That was the one that cost us," Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. "We could've shut them down. That was the big play that really hurt us, and that was inexcusable."
"It's always in these types of games, it's always one or two plays," Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears said. "It's back and forth and whoever makes the mistake probably is going to lose. We did. We made the mistake. We did it to ourselves."
He could just as easily be talking about the special teams. The Cowboys resorted to form on special teams by allowing a big punt return, touching the ball on a punt resulting in a turnover and some suspect punting by Sam Paulescu. Plus, as good as Adam Jones was while breaking up passes, he tried to ruin it with below-average returns and one muff that he was lucky to recover. What's he doing fielding a punt at the five for anyway? The Cowboys special teams help us lose a game again, one can only wonder if they will cost us a playoff shot.
Meanwhile, back over on offense, one receiver wasn't happy.
"All I can do is run my routes," T.O. said. "It's [the QB's] job to go out there and assess what the defense is, and he made that decision."
That was in response to questions about the final play, where Romo went to Witten when T.O. thought he had something going on and replays showed that Crayton was also open for the catch. As long as Romo doesn't take the bait, which I'm sure he won't, it's just T.O. being T.O.
More from the animated one:
"We can't allow those things to happen," T.O. said. "The defense played a hell of a ballgame. We stunk it up on the offense. When you have turnovers, it's hard to win the game."
Nothing to see here, just move along you looky-loo's.
I guess the positive surprise of the game besides the defense was the play of rookie Tashard Choice. The kid can ball! 88 yards rushing and 78 yards receiving, all while providing some great blocks in pass protection. When Marion Barber gets back he might find himself sharing time again. Choice was happy with his game, but losing trumps all.
"It don't even mean nothing," Choice said. "It means something as far as the coaches understanding what I can do, but, man, all I care about is winning and losing. I could have had a terrible game, and if we won the game, I would have had a smile on my face. But when you lose, it takes it all out of you. All it makes you want to do is go back and work harder."
The Steelers gave props to the kid, too.
"He's a pretty good back. We knew that," [Lamar] Woodley said. "When he saw a hole he hit it, so you have to give him props. He ain't in the NFL for nothing."
On a tangent of the Barber/Choice combo, what is Jerry Jones doing calling out his own player to the press?
"[Barber] can play with that injured toe," Jones said. "He can play with the soreness and a combination of those things. I see nothing that led us to believe he couldn't."
Just chill, Jerry. Right now, we don't need an internally driven issue to crop up. We need all hands on deck for a playoff drive.
"I would say you needed to win to really be able to affirm it," owner and general manager Jerry Jones said, "but these guys fought and played tough in tough circumstances up here. I would make the argument we would've had to win the next three anyway. That's where we are."
That's more like it.
So we lost a game we easily could have won, we blew a chance at pulling away from the pack in the playoff hunt, we lost out on the incredible momentum that would come from a four-game win streak and threw away the confidence that would come from beating a team like Pittsburgh, on their turf, in the elements. That's the sober truth. But the dash of optimism is that we actually moved up in the playoff race (thanks for losing Atlanta and Washington) and we can still pretty much write our own ending to the season.
"We don't know how the season's going to end," said quarterback Tony Romo, whose third interception of the game was returned for the winning touchdown with 1:40 to play. "Other teams have been in this position and gone on to win the Super Bowl. Other teams have been in this position and not made the playoffs. The story will be written here at the end.
"We have, I think, a chance to write our own story. I don't think it's completely out of our hands."
Start writing next Sunday, Tony.