Tony Romo's throwing hand isn't broken.
That is the most important thing that can be taken away from today's 20-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, as the Cowboys fell to 8-7 on the season. On the Cowboys first offensive possession, Jason Babin looped into the middle on third down and Romo's throwing motion took his right hand directly into the crown of Babin's helmet; ending the quarterback's day. The X-rays were negative, and Romo would return to the sideline ready to re-enter the contest, but an early victory by the Giants rendered the final score for this contest unimportant.
Of course, just because the hand isn't broken, does not mean that Dallas is out of the woods. Romo's hand was visibly swollen and although it appeared that he could have tried to return, we probably won't know for a few days whether he will enter the live-or-die Week 17 matchup at the Giants able to make all his throws with velocity.
That Week 17 rematch will be for all the 9-7 marbles. The winner will go on to the tournament, the loser will enter the off-season with more questions than answers, and if it's the Cowboys a second-consecutive third-place NFC East finish. An NFC East that will crown an under-10 win champion for the first time since the 1960's. Storylines of an entire season will be written based off the results of one game.
An entire week of nervous energy, excitement and revenge-tinted thoughts were basically derailed before the game got going. The playoff importance of the Cowboys-Eagles rematch mostly rested on a loss by the New York Giants, although outside possibility of a Wild Card still rested with the fate of the Atlanta Falcons. However, the New York Jets complete offensive ineptitude saw the Eagles eliminated soon after they took an early 7-0 lead on a Michael Vick touchdown pass to Brent Celek.
That drive happened while there was still a whiff of importance to the game, and the Cowboys defense never showed much of an ability to stop the Eagles passing attack. Philly would later drive on the Cowboys, going the length of the field, only to have Jason Avant fumble for a touchback as he stretched the ball for the pylon. Late in the half, the Cowboys punted to the Eagles with less than a minute left; then watched Michael Vick complete three consecutive passes of more than 20 yards to bring them to first and goal. A touchdown pass later, and each Cowboys cornerback had been made to look foolish as Philly took a 14-0 halftime lead.
Even with nothing riding on the game, the Cowboys appeared to want to work out some defensive kinks in the second half to no avail. Included in that was an apparent hamstring injury to ILB Sean Lee, who was on the sidelines before the third quarter came to a close. The one defensive positive from keeping the starters in, DeMarcus Ware collected two sacks to tie Babin for second in the league with 18 (Jared Allen has 18.5). The second was a powerful "rock-bottom" slam of Michael Vick. That drew cheers from the Cowboys Stadium crowd with nothing much to celebrate when they realized Michael Vick was shaken up on the play.
Stephen McGee, the number two QB with Jon Kitna done for the year due to a back injury, showed some ability, but wasn't able to move the Cowboys into the end zone or field goal range for that matter. He showed some escapability, he showed some arm strength on sideline routes, but the few deep throws, as well as some shorter ones, he attempted were normally off target. He also failed to recognize the clock was winding down to the two-minute warning at the end of the first half. Granted, the Cowboys prepared for this game as a potential playoff-berthing one, so McGee's preparation time has undoubtedly been limited. Therefore fans should be reluctant to look at this as a dress rehearsal to be the 2012 primary backup. McGee didn't lose that opportunity, but he didn't do much to convince Jerry Jones that an offseason search is unwarranted.
The Cowboys line didn't do much to protect him, as he was sacked three times and hit at least 15 other times. There is also the possibility that Jason Garrett went to Plan C with his play-calling once the game was no longer going to affect playoff possibilities. For what it's worth, McGee and Dez Bryant seemed to be on the same page with each other, as they connected on six of Bryant's eight targets.
The Cowboys almost suffered their first home shutout loss since September 1991, a span of 165 games. A late punt block by rookie Bruce Carter gave the Cowboys one final possession with 22 seconds left on the clock. A Stephen McGee scramble from the 16 took Dallas down to the four and McGee found Austin at the right front pylon to finally get the Cowboys on the scoreboard. It was a minor triumph in a sea of 'meh' to say the least.
Regardless, it all goes away as the playoffs start next Sunday for Dallas and New York. The game is currently slated for 4:15pm eastern on Fox, but will most likely be flexed into Sunday night positioning, an ominous sign for Dallas who have lost their last six in that time slot.
Merry Christmas, BTB!