Down but not out yet

Dal­las falls in over­time but can clinch play­offs by beat­ing Washington.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - Cedric Golden

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.

ri­Cardo b. brazziell / amer­i­Can-states­man

The Cow­boys’ Ja­son Wit­ten looks for room to run against the Saints’ Johnny Pa­trick dur­ing the sec­ond half.

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