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Cowboys' season is broken beyond repair

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After eight days of talk about devastating hits, the Dallas Cowboys endured a comprehensively brutal blow from which they won’t likely recover, at least not this season.

As blitzing New York Giants linebacker Michael Boley(notes) drove Tony Romo(notes) into the Cowboys Stadium turf in the second quarter of Monday night’s 41-35 victory, the Super Bowl dreams of America’s Team were officially broken. So, too, was Romo’s clavicle. While it’s not yet clear exactly how long the quarterback will be out – in his postgame session with reporters, owner Jerry Jones suggested a timeline of six to eight weeks – chances are that if Romo returns this season, the Cowboys’ playoff hopes will have been officially extinguished by then.

Dallas, coming off an 11-5 season that ended with a divisional playoff defeat to the Vikings, is 1-5 and trending toward 4-12. It’s a nightmare Jones didn’t see coming when he essentially stood pat over the offseason, spitting in the face of conventional wisdom, because he felt he already had a team that could win it all.

[Photos: Tony Romo in action]

With an uncapped year and the chance to host a Super Bowl next February in his gorgeous new stadium, Jones had been expected by many to go on a spending spree in a desperate effort to get back to the Ultimate Game. Instead he chose to play the hand he already had, a conviction that stemmed from a fervent faith in the power of Romo’s throwing arm.

Since Romo’s unlikely ascent to stardom in 2006, Jones has been convinced that for the first time since Troy Aikman’s retirement, he’s got a franchise quarterback capable of carrying a team to the top. It has guided every principle of his governance – Jones believes that when you know you have a special quarterback, it justifies a higher degree of risk-taking, so rare is the opportunity to take advantage of that relatively short window.

The crazy thing is, as we saw Monday night – and as a certain Y! Sports columnist predicted, incidentally – Jones actually brought in a big-time reinforcement last spring in first-round draft pick Dez Bryant(notes). With a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown and two late receiving scores, the polarizing wideout announced his candidacy for offensive rookie of the year and had the look of a budding superstar.

The Cowboys may have a bright future, but we now understand it will look a lot different than Dallas’ listless present. Coach and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips almost certainly won’t be back in 2011, and that leaves the fate of young offensive coordinator Jason Garrett – once regarded as the obvious heir apparent – very much in the balance. Especially if Jones goes after a big name with a proven track record such as Bill Cowher or MNF analyst Jon Gruden, there will be major stylistic and strategic changes, and perhaps some philosophical adjustments.

[Rewind: Tony Romo the golfer]

No one knows for sure what the post-2010 Cowboys will look like or, for that matter, whether the 2011 season will start on time or even be played at all. I’d be stunned, however, if Romo’s not a huge part of the post-makeover Cowboys. The guy gets a lot of grief, partly because of his propensity for high-profile fun away from the field, but he’s still a very good quarterback with an improvisational flair who still carries the potential for greatness.

We’re about to see the Cowboys without Romo, and it’s probably not going to be pretty. His replacement, Jon Kitna(notes), is a gritty competitor who has had success at times during his career, but he’s 38 and immobile and starting his journey from the bottom of a Texas-sized hole. The Cowboys’ opponents over the next seven weeks include the Packers, Giants, Saints, Colts and Eagles. And, of course, inertia.

Anything can happen in pro football, but it feels like we’ve seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end happily.

That’s what made Boley’s hit so devastating – it took out hope and left it sidelined indefinitely.

Romo, at least, likely has some Vicodin in his immediate future. For Jones to numb the pain, he’ll have to start plotting a possible comeback that won’t happen until next year, at the earliest.

On a positive, he can look forward to an up-close-and-personal view of a Super Bowl that won’t involve his team. It might take awhile, but eventually he might thank Boley for putting the 2010 Cowboys out of their misery and ushering in a new era.

IF I SLIPPED JON GRUDEN SOME TRUTH SERUM …

In the fourth quarter, Mike Tirico referenced Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris’ statement that the Bucs are the best team in the NFC and Ron Jaworski proclaimed that the Giants were the conference’s best right now. Gruden admonished his partners for looking ahead, saying, “You guys are unbelievable. It’s not even Halloween yet. When we got that Lombardi Trophy, it was the end of January. I don’t remember winning a division championship until the end of December. There’s a ton of football left. These guys right here and the Jets – how 'bout that for a Super Bowl, in this stadium?” It was all very entertaining, but the unvarnished version would have been even more so:

You guys are unbelievable – but you want to know what’s even more unbelievable? Raheem Morris. This guy was one of my assistant coaches, and then the Glazers fired me and promoted him, and he’s got a 4-2 team with a soft schedule and he’s calling it the best in the NFC. Let me tell you something – they ARE the best team in the NFC, if by "best" he means “eighth-best.” Give me a [expletive] break, Rah. I had the best team in football, and guess what – we won a Lombardi Trophy. Buccaneers and the Raiders – how 'bout that for a Super Bowl, in this stadium? In their [expletive] dreams …

TUESDAY MORNING HAIKU

And for Halloween
America’s Team haters
Donning Boley masks

ONE E FOR FREE

why is it so difficult to give the Jets some credit? As a fan, we have endured ridicule for years and now when we have a truly solid team and we are playing well … jerks like you cant give them ANY respect at all? The Steelers have more problems then you mentioned, by the way. FOR ONCE I wish you lame brain sports columnists would be fair to the Jets. Im sure if we win the Superbowl youll write an article about the losing teams' disappointment and how they can rebuild for the next season leaving out any mention of the Jets You are a moron

Karen

OK, a few points: First, this passionate email was in response to a column in which I rated the Jets as the third-best team in the NFL after six weeks. I shudder to think what your reaction might have been had I done something truly radical, like leave them out of the top four. Secondly, in addition to calling me a jerk, you used the words “lame brain” and “moron” to describe me. Here’s some advice: When questioning someone’s intelligence in an email, it’s not a horrible idea to figure out the basics of writing like apostrophes, contractions, punctuation and capitalization … to know that “Super Bowl” is actually two words … and to learn the difference between “then” and “than.” Finally, if the Jets win the Super Bowl and I pull off an entire article without mentioning their existence, you’ll be justified in calling me a moron – but know that people in my business will regard it as pure genius.