For most of the season, jubilant faces and raucous cheers filled the Dallas Cowboys‘ locker room. Following a 21-17 playoff loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, the sound of loose change hitting the floor in Texas Stadium would have been deafening.
The Cowboys entered the game with questions concerning key players Tony Romo and Terrell Owens. Would Romo’s Cabo getaway with starlet Jessica Simpson affect his play, and how serious was Owens’ bad ankle? However, the Cowboys didn’t lose this game because of outside distractions. False starts, personal fouls and numerous dropped balls cost the Cowboys the win.
“We got ourselves in some bad situations,” said Jason Garrett, Cowboys offensive coordinator. “A lot of execution has to do with minimizing some of the negative plays, at least from an offensive stand-point. We weren’t able to do that, and it got us in trouble.”
Owens held back tears after the game defending Romo and his actions saying they lost as a team.
The Cowboys finished the game with 11 penalties for 84 yards. The string of penalties started on the Giants’ first possession of the game. The Cowboys appeared to stop the Giants on third down, but linebacker DeMarcus Ware was called for off sides. Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning then threw a 52-yard touchdown to receiver Amani Toomer.
The Giants came to Dallas looking to prove they belonged on the same field with a Cowboys team that beat them twice during the regular season. After the Giants scored the first points of the game, they started to believe.
Following a shaky first quarter, Romo and the Cowboys answered New York’s challenge.
Owens caught a five-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7 early in the second quarter.
The Cowboys soon added another touchdown on Marion Barber’s 1-yard touchdown run, putting the Cowboys up 14-7 with 53 seconds to go in the half and what looked to be a secure halftime lead.
However, Manning and the Giants were able to march down the field and tie the game on another touchdown from Toomer, tying the game with seven seconds left in the half.
“That drive at the end of the half really killed us,” head coach Wade Phillips said.
One of the reasons the drive was able to kill the Cowboys was a 15-yard facemask penalty against Cowboys cornerback Jacques Reeves. Mistakes marred the day for the Cowboys on this Sunday.
“It hurts. It’s tough right now,” Romo said.
In the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys trailing 21-17, the Giants administered some physical pain on the Cowboys’ leader. The amount of pressure the Giants’ defensive line put on Romo had the quarterback barking at officials after being peeled off the turf following several vicious hits.
The Giants are headed to their first NFC Championship game since 2000, a feat that thrills Manning.
“I won’t get tired of hearing that this week. No one’s given us much credit and probably still won’t, but that’s OK. We like it that way,” Manning said.
The Cowboys are now left to ponder what might have been. They are staring at 12 years without a playoff win, going 0-6 in that span. The last two losses – Seattle last season, and New York this year – were determined on the last play of the game.
The Cowboys seemed destined to reach the Super Bowl entering Sunday’s game, with the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage secured throughout the playoffs.
With a divisional round matchup against a Giants team the Cowboys had already defeated twice and what would have been a home game against a Packers team, which has never won in Dallas under the quarterbacking of Brett Favre, the Cowboys had the perfect matchups.
But with the loss comes a question the team had been hoping to avoid until February.
Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has been mentioned as a potential target for teams looking for a young coach and has interviewed with Baltimore and Atlanta, which are both currently without a head coach.
Owner Jerry Jones said Phillips’ job is secure despite the loss.
Garrett was originally seen as a potential successor for Phillips, but because of the advances he was able to make with the Cowboys’ offense, he is now seen as a hot commodity.
The Cowboys’ offense under Garrett ranked third this season in yards per game and second in points per game.
On Sunday night, nobody in the Cowboys locker room was smiling. The swagger that the team worked so hard to gain over 16 games had vanished.