Down but not out yet
Dallas falls in overtime but can clinch playoffs by beating Washington.
A RLINGTON — After a crushing defeat, the theme coming out of the Dallas Cowboys’ locker room was not one of resignation.
“It’s not over,” was the resounding message.
That would be the opposite feeling from Decembers past, but the current month can’t be categorized as such. Not yet.
Dallas’ run to the playoffs took a direct hit Sunday, courtesy of the latest Texas high school product to walk out of Cowboys Stadium with a win. After Copperas Cove’s Robert Griffin III and the Redskins did in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, Austin’s Drew Brees scrooged the home team with an epic passing performance two days before Christmas. New Orleans 34, Dallas 31. Give the banged-up Dallas defense credit for hanging in there against a top-flight offense. Give Tony Romo and Dez Bryant credit for their roles in erasing a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit. But don’t credit them with a moral victory, because a valiant effort in a losing cause won’t
punch this team’s ticket to the postseason. Only wins work from here.
The numbers were glowing on both sides, particularly for Dallas, which had a 400-yard passer (Romo), a 200yard receiver (Bryant) and a tight end ( Jason Witten) who broke the singleseason record for his position with his 103rd catch.
But the numbers that matter favored New Orleans.
“I think it’s about winning and losing,” Romo said. “You do everything in your power to help your football team to do ... what it takes to win. When you don’t, you’ll use the experiences to get better, but as far as standing up here and feeling good, it doesn’t (feel good). When you lose in the NFL, especially when you play this position, it’s a very empty feeling.”
And that’s coming from a guy who threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns. Like I said before ... just numbers.
Dallas has gotten its share of breaks lately, but on this day, the hard-luck, bounty-exhausted Saints found a reason to smile. Just ask wideout Marques Colston, who coughed up the most celebrated fumble since Oakland tight end Dave Casper scored on what became known as the Holy Roller in 1978.
The ball rolled toward the end zone and found its way into the hands of tight end Jimmy Graham at Dallas’ 3-yard line. One 20-yard field goal later, the Cowboys find themselves at 8-7, needing a win at Washington to make it to the postseason.
One break that did go Dallas’ way was the Giants’ loss at Balti- more. As New York suffers through an uncharacteristic meltdown of a December, the Cowboys find themselves in the position of controlling their own destiny. Win at Washington and get a home playoff game. Lose and go home.
At this point, the Cowboys will take that scenario.
After all, they have crafted a well-deserved reputation for spectacular late-season swoons. 2012 hasn’t been one of those seasons. Dallas entered Sunday’s matchup with a 3-0 record in December, having won those games by total of nine points. And while the fan base welcomed those wins, they also acknowledged the gnawing feeling that this team couldn’t keep up its Cardiac Cowboy act.
The Saints exposed Dallas’ lack of depth on defense and the declining health of AllPro linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who is being held together by duct tape, Robitussin and a heaping helping of guts. While Ware trudges on — a shoulder injury caused him to miss most of the fourth quarter — run stoppers like Jay Ratliff and Sean Lee (injured earlier in the season) have been reduced to spectators with season-ending injuries. So it came as no surprise that Brees, given good protection, could blitz this makeshift unit for 446 yards and three touchdowns.
“You have to put this one behind us,” coach Jason Garrett said. “There were a lot of good things that happened in the ballgame. Certainly, the resolve, the fight, the determination and the will was on display by our football team again. Those are real positive things.”
Garrett knows that Dallas will always be judged on championships, even though the 2015 season will be the 20th anniversary of this franchise’s last Super Bowl title. Garrett was actually a player on that team.
Considering where the prognosticators picked them to finish in the preseason — behind the Giants in the East, for sure — a win in D.C. on Sunday would make for some kind of story. A playoff story.
“The only reason you really play, in a lot of ways, is to get your team into that position and to get in the playoffs so you can have a chance,” Romo said. “When you get in, anything can happen.”
Saints Pierre Thomas (left) and UT ex David Thomas celebrate a score against the Cowboys in the second half. Both receivers caught a touchdown pass during the half.
The Cowboys’ Jason Witten looks for room to run against the Saints’ Johnny Patrick during the second half.