All The Laughter Dies In Tears

behind the entire defense; and have the ball slip out of your hands throwing at a wide open Owens on a crossing route, turning a possible touchdown into a field goal. 

That's how you lose a game. 

There will also be those who will blame the defense. And I'll admit, giving up a touchdown in 46 seconds after grinding away for one of your own needing 10:28 is a back-breaker, or as Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said, "That TD was huge . . . we have a chance" he said was their thinking at halftime. 

But hey, the Cowboys gave up 21 points. Sorry, but that's what this defense mostly has done this season, and especially against the better teams they have played. Opponents averaged 20.3 points a game against the Cowboys during the season. 

So here is the deal, with that and those special teams errors and the drops and the missteps: All season long the Cowboys had been able to outscore their mistakes. They would pile up points, as if pancaking Clearasil on all those pimples. 

But Sunday, they would score only 17 points, and as I've preached, 17 points doesn't cut it in the playoffs. You got to score points. In the eight NFL playoff games the first two rounds this season, only San Diego won a game scoring as few as 17 points. The Giants came next with Sunday's 21. The other six winners scored at least 24 points, and five winners scored at least 28. 

The odds of winning with 17 are slim. Still. 

"We knew in order to win this game we had to put some points on the board and we didn't do that," Owens said. 

And that was the refrain after beating Detroit 28-27 on a comeback they just couldn't duplicate this Sunday. The Eagles held the Cowboys to six points. While the Cowboys would score 20 at Carolina, they would put up only six after Owens left with his high ankle sprain. They would score only six more in the loss to Washington in the finale. 

Then this, 17, but only three in the second half. 

Why, the Cowboys went from a team averaging 32.5 points a game over the first 13 to a team averaging 12.5 over what has turned out to be the final four games of what turned out to be an excruciating year. 

This may sound sacrilegious, but don't hesitate to give the Giants credit. Their defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo made a business gamble the second half, realizing that without Madison and Ross, they probably weren't going to cover the Cowboys all day. And they were getting no pressure on the Cowboys the first half. 

"When you lose a cornerback against that offense you are thinking, 'Oh no,'" Strahan said, "but Spagnuolo stepped it up." 

That he did, cranking up the dogs and blitzes the second half, figuring that was their only hope to slow down an offense which had put up 45 and 31 points against them the first time around. While the Giants only registered two sacks of Romo - both in the second half - they started hurrying him and hitting him just as he was throwing. Worst of all, they starting worrying him. Too many back-foot throws out of necessity. 

That's what happened on that first possession of the second half, the Cowboys driving from their own 22 to a second-and-7 at the Giants 11. Tight end Anthony Fasano couldn't make a catch at the goal line. Then Flozell Adams got his false start, turning third-and-7 into a third and 12. 

Then it happened. Romo looked left, continued to look left and just as he was running out of time, the pressure getting there, he saw Owens galloping across the middle wide open. He tried to get the ball out too quickly, and the darn thing squirted right out of his hands, wobbling high and behind Owens who likely would have scored . . . at least would have picked up the first down. 

"He had to get it out . . . too bad," Garrett said. 

Sure, Folk kicked a field goal, but in the playoffs especially, and even though the Cowboys took a 17-14 lead with 6:53 left in the third quarter, the more field goals you kick the further you fall behind. The Cowboys left four points on the field. 

They lost by four points. Emotional devastation reigned. 

"It's going to be hard for anybody who's a Dallas Cowboys fan or coach or player right now or anybody associated with the team," Romo said. "I think

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