That’s where it all slipped away from the Dallas Cowboys. The Pro Bowl quarterback who saved their season ended it, too.
Romo’s bobble on the field-goal try with 1:19 left led to a scramble that ended 2 yards shy of the end zone and a yard short of a first down, preserving a 21-20 victory for the Seattle Seahawks in the wildest of wild-card games Saturday night.
“You coach long enough, you end up seeing just about everything,” Seattle’s Mike Holmgren said. “One more thing for the journal.”
And one moment Dallas coach Bill Parcells would rather forget after coming oh-so-close to his first playoff win since 1998 and the Cowboys’ first postseason victory since 1996.
“It was just one of those things,” Parcells said. “It looked like a good snap. I can’t tell you what happened after that. We’re an extra point from being down to the eight teams left. That’s what’s the hardest thing.”
Seattle will play on the road next weekend, its foe determined by the Philadelphia-New York Giants game Sunday. If the Eagles win, the Seahawks play at Chicago. If the Giants win, the Seahawks play at New Orleans.
Romo was a big reason the Cowboys even made it this far, having turned their season around by winning five of his first six starts after replacing Drew Bledsoe and blossoming into a Pro Bowler.
That was little comfort after Romo’s last-second heave fell incomplete. He walked off the field briskly, head down, and was choked up during a postgame interview. In the locker room, he sat on a chair facing his locker, his shoulders hunched.
“I know how hard everyone in that locker room worked to get themselves in position to win that game today and for it to end like that, and for me to be the cause is very tough to swallow right now,” Romo said. “I take responsibility for messing up at the end there. That’s my fault. I cost the Dallas Cowboys a playoff win, and it’s going to sit with me a long time.”
Gramatica was supposed to cap a thrilling rally by Dallas.
After protecting a 20-13 lead with a stop by the defense, the Cowboys fell behind when Terry Glenn’s fumble turned into a safety and Seattle followed with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Jerramy Stevens. But with Dallas down a point and 4:24 left, Romo drove the Cowboys right back down the field and into position for the win.
He moved the Cowboys from their 28 to the Seattle 2, where a pass to Jason Witten was initially ruled a first down before a replay showed the Cowboys were short. Parcells seemed tempted to go for it on fourth-and-1, leaving his offense on the field until Seattle called a timeout. Then he sent in Gramatica, the late-season replacement for Mike Vanderjagt who’d already made the coach look good by hitting from 50 and 29 yards.
Romo—who has been holding on kicks since last season, long before he ever threw a pass in the NFL—caught the snap cleanly but fumbled the ball as he tried to place it down.
Gramatica never swung his leg, instead forced to get out of the way as Romo picked up the ball and darted left to try to make up for his mistake.
He never reached the end zone—or even the first-down marker. Romo was stopped at the 2 on a shoestring tackle by Jordan Babineaux, whose last-minute interception set up Seattle’s game-winning kick the last time Dallas played here.
“I just tried to walk him down,” Babineaux said. “I grabbed him by the ankles, saved the tackle. It was very huge.”
Holmgren already was thinking about what plays the Seahawks would try on their last drive. Shaun Alexander was talking to receiver Deion Branch about only needing to get within kicker Josh Brown’s range.
“We’re giving the plan for how we can get to the 35 so Josh can make it,” Alexander said. “Then, at the last second, I said, `What if he misses it? Deion was like, `Don’t even say that. Why even say that?”’
The Seahawks still had to get away from the shadow of their goal line to protect the victory, but did so right away with Alexander running through the middle for 20 yards. Seattle milked the clock to 8 seconds before a punt that gave Dallas one last chance from the 50.
Romo weaved right then left, then heaved the ball into the end zone. Terrell Owens was among the Cowboys who failed to grab it. With that, Seattle’s rabid fans began smacking together the Shrek-colored gloves they’d been given, producing their loudest cheer of the night. The goal, of course, is another long playoff run that leads to the Super Bowl, as it did last season.
“Some unusual things happened. That’s the playoffs for you,” Holmgren said.
As bizarre as this finish was, it was only the second-craziest of the season for Dallas. On Nov. 5, the Cowboys lost 22-19 to Washington after a last-second field goal was blocked and a flag on the return let the Redskins kick the winner with no time left. It was their only other road loss under Romo.
The punch to the gut of that loss, though, was nothing compared to this one. It will haunt Dallas at least until next season and likely until the longest postseason drought in franchise history ends—whenever that is.
And Romo will have to live with one of the most memorable blunders in playoff history.
“I don’t know if I have ever felt this low,” the disconsolate quarterback said.
Added team owner Jerry Jones: “I feel empty.”
The Cowboys are 0-for-2 under Parcells in the playoffs and might have played their last game for him. If so, his four-year tenure would end with three straight losses and four in his last five games.
“I’m going to take a look at things, take a look at what we need to do, and go from there,” Parcells said.
Jones wants Parcells back.
“I think we gave ourself a chance this year to meet our goal. We didn’t get them met, but we gave ourselves a chance,” Jones said.
Hasselbeck was 18-of-36 for 240 yards with two touchdowns, both to Stevens, and two interceptions, both of which resulted in Dallas field goals.
Alexander ran 24 times for 69 yards. His 20-yard burst at the end was his longest of the game.
Romo was 17-of-29 for 189 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t have any turnovers after a spurt of them in recent weeks, although he did fumble once. And, of course, there was the botched hold that mattered most.
“It was perfect,” Alexander quipped. “Just how we planned it.”
Miles Austin, an undrafted rookie, had the first kickoff return for a touchdown in Cowboys playoff history. His 93-yarder put Dallas up 17-13 in the third quarter only 11 seconds after the Seahawks had gone ahead.
The Cowboys’ defense was way better than usual, too. They allowed only two first-half field goals, their stingiest half in eight games, and kept Seattle from ever getting into a groove.
Dallas is 0-5 in the playoffs since winning a wild-card game at Minnesota on Dec. 28, 1996. The Cowboys had never lost more than three straight postseason games.
Parcells had never even lost two straight playoff games before this 0-3 drought. In 2003, his first year in Dallas, he became the only coach to guide four teams into the playoffs, but another loss kept him from upping that mark to the only coach to win playoff games with four clubs.
“I did the best I could,” Parcells said. “It wasn’t quite good enough.”
Holmgren won his 12th career playoff game, tying Bill Cowher for fifth-best in NFL history.
There was a pregame moment of silence for slain Denver cornerback Darrent Williams. … Seattle had two sacks, matching its total for the previous four games. … The longest kickoff return by Dallas in a playoff game had been an 89-yarder by Rod Hill in January 1983. … Injured Seahawks safety Marcus Trufant raised the team’s 12th Man flag to a boisterous ovation before kickoff. … T.O. on his future in Dallas: “Definitely, I see no reason not to” be back.