Losing More Than A Game

what he said, he came right back to where he started. 

"I can't tell you how disappointed I am, I really can't," he would say again, so frustrated he simply began repeating himself. "This is a low point for me. I'm disappointed because I just wanted my team to be playing better right now." 

Of course, and maybe now we know what The Eagles truly meant in their hit song Hotel California, when they crooned on about how you can "check out, but you can never leave." 

The Cowboys, sadly to say, seem to have checked out. But the NFL says they can't leave this 2006 season. They must play next Saturday in Seattle. They are required to be there to meet the equally 9-7 Seahawks in a 7 p.m. (CST) contest. 

In the NFC playoffs. 

Playoffs! 

Mercy me. 

Now Romo had to make that long walk up the tunnel by himself. But he should have had company. Plenty. Start with his offensive line mates, who could not prevent him from being under siege all afternoon long. They also for the second straight week could get no push up front, the Cowboys rushing for just 58 yards, and to think we thought the 83 last week was bad. 

And the entire defense should have made that lonely walk with him. Now look, I realize because of turnovers and poor special teams play, the Lions started five drives inside the Cowboys 40. But good gosh, the Lions gained 362 yards. Jon Kitna passed for 306 yards. Mike Furrey, that's right, Furrey, the guy who was playing safety last year, caught 11 passes for 102 yards. Mike Williams, not Roy mind you, Mike Williams who had all of six catches all season coming into this game, caught what turned out to be the game-winning 21-yard touchdown catch on, of all people, Terence Newman. 

And to think the Cowboys even changed up their defense, throwing out a little 4-3 at times, and even switching up the personnel, starting Bobby Carpenter, playing Tony Parrish some at safety, bringing in Junior Glymph as a pass rusher, as well as Stephen Bowen. 

I'm not hallucinating. 

Parcells agreed, this loss was about more than Romo, who by the way, did complete 23 of 32 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns, too, and masterfully drove the Cowboys downfield in the final 2:53, from their own 35 to the Lions' 6 before the magic expired. 

But to win consistently in the NFL, and especially in the playoffs, quarterbacks can't indiscriminately mix in the mistakes, too. You can't let the ball get knocked out of your hand from behind trailing 20-14 and at the opponent's 8-yard line. You can't get intercepted from your 31, trailing 23-21. You can't be waving the ball around in one hand like a flashlight while running out of the pocket, trailing 36-31 with the ball at your own 8. Because most times, that ball you drop in the same manner in your own end zone doesn't bounce back to you to allow a 17-yard reception for a first down on third down that enables what turned out to be a touchdown drive. 

"That's what happens under pressure sometimes, that's what happens," Parcells said of his young quarterback's multiple faux pas late in the game. "I think his carelessness with the ball - particularly when he has it in his hand there - what you're seeing is what you saw in the first year here or what I saw, and now it has reared its head again . . . .  

"Now he does improvise and get out of trouble and make some plays. He did that four or five times today. But at the end of the day, that never offsets what it costs you, because that as a habit only works seldom." 

But let us remember, Parcells decided this was better than the alternative back on Oct. 29 when he pulled the plug on Drew Bledsoe, deciding the status quo wouldn't do. His gamble was two games short of sheer brilliance. His gamble was a defensive meltdown away from brilliance. 

Unfortunately, the Cowboys must face stark reality: They are heading to the playoffs without feeling much like they belong, this dance maybe above their heads. 

"We didn't quit and competed right down to the end of it," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, his lip a tad stiffer than it was after last Monday's loss to Philly, "and that's the position I'm going to take. 

"We still tee it up for the new season. I'm going to

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