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Strange Way To Ruin What Could Have Been

Santonio Holmes on an improbable 47-yard pass into the wind when Terence Newman, who had limited the Steelers top receiver to one catch at that point, got caught looking inside on the pass that didn't produce points, but radically changed the ever-so-important field position when the Cowboys made a goal-line stand at their own one. 

  Then came the Holmes 35-yard punt return back to the Cowboys 25, yet that stingy Cowboys defense giving no more than eight yards, and of all things, Steelers kicker Jeff Reed, who already had missed one field goal kicking with the wind at his back, bounced a 41-yarder in off the right upright. 

  And when the Cowboys couldn't move a lick on the next possession, all of a sudden the Steelers offense caught fire, piling up five first downs - only the second possession all game with more than two in the same series - and when one came on a fourth-and-inches play by half the length of the football, the Steelers went on to tie the game, 13-all with 2:04 left. Why, the offense that could go nowhere against the Cowboys' own curtain-like defense, suddenly scored 10 straight points. 

  They would make it 17 when the weirdest of weird plays occurred just 13 seconds later on third-and-eight from the Cowboys 17. 

  Romo threw right to his security blanket, Jason Witten, who already had a game-high six receptions for 62 yards. It was a timing pattern, and as Witten said, "A simple 10-yard route, and hook up. I've caught 200 of those." 

  He would not catch this one, Witten slipping on the hook-up part of the route, and ending up nowhere near Romo's throw, landing in the unsuspecting hands of Townsend, who warmed the cockles of those towel-wavin' Steelers fans' hearts when he sped nearly untouched for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.  Romo, three interceptions? A final 44.9 QB rating? No way. 

  "I threw it where he wasn't, and that's on me," Romo nobly said as a good quarterback and leader should. 

  But there was no need. Witten already had fallen on his sword. 

  "Totally on me," Witten bravely said. "Completely. Tony trusted me on that, and I slipped coming out of the break. He threw it exactly where it's supposed to go. I cost us the game." 

  See what I'm talking about? Heading into this game, you probably would have thought if anyone would be talking about "costing us the game," it might have come from a defense that has been spotty all season, though improving. Instead, the defense stood strong, giving up only the one touchdown drive without the Steelers leaching off a turnover for points. 

  Or maybe you would have figured that would have come from the special teams, where they did have a punt-return miscue and that long Holmes punt return, but that didn't cost them more than three points. 

  Or maybe from the rookie Choice, thrown into this high-profile game, yet performing as if he has been doing this his entire life. 

  But no, it was Romo, in whom the Cowboys trust, and Witten, who has saved many a day for the team, trying to beat the other to the apology punch. 

  The Cowboys own twilight zone. 

  And on top of that, here was Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, his team playing some ugly offense and just good enough defense, saying afterward, "What a beautiful game; and I mean that. I just told the team that. People get too preoccupied with style points. That was a beautiful football game because we displayed mettle and we hung together." 

  That the Steelers (10-3) did, and left Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips to lament what nearly was, saying, "This is a tough loss for us and there were a lot of ramifications. But we're still in there and we're still going to fight. We're just going to come back and face another team next week." 

  But of all the strange things to happen on this at times surreal day, if I would have told you the Cowboys would lose, dropping their record to 8-5 in this mad scramble for the two NFC wild-card spots and jump from the seventh-seeded team to the sixth-seed and the final wild-card spot if the playoffs began today, you would have called me loco. 

  Yet, that's exactly what

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