Wrong time for Romo to trip

IRVING, Texas – Let the parade of sarcastic jokes start to flow.

Like this: Did you hear Jessica Simpson was going to remake the Go-Go's song "Vacation" with Tony Romo starring in the video?

Or maybe this: Did you hear that Nick Lachey has completed more passes since he divorced Simpson than Romo has since he started dating her?

Yeah, it's going to be a rough offseason for Romo and the Dallas Cowboys. They completed their fall from 11-1 at the end of November to losing three of their final five games, culminating in a stunningly ineffective performance in Sunday's 21-17 loss to the New York Giants in the second round of the NFC playoffs.

Topping the list of the listless for the Cowboys was Romo, who was 18 of 36 for 201 yards, one touchdown and an interception. All of that came after Romo caused a stir last week by spending Thursday through Sunday in Mexico with Simpson.

As controversies go, the Romo-Simpson getaway to Cabo San Lucas is about as lame as taking Simpson's singing and acting seriously. But here's one thing that goes with a high-profile vacation in the midst of your team preparing to defend the No. 1 seed in the NFC: You had better play well, or you'll suffer the consequences.

Romo, the same guy who dropped to his knees in shame a year ago when the Cowboys lost to Seattle in the first round of the playoffs, is now about to really hear it from his adoring fans.

"I don't live with regrets," Romo said when he was questioned about his decisions over the past few weeks. "I'm content in my own skin. If I try and be a good person and I'm strong enough in my faith, if I'm strong enough in what I'm trying to do, then I feel like I'm doing it the right way."

Romo might want to reconsider that approach because most fans aren't going to want to hear that right now, especially since a lot of people saw this coming with the Cowboys. Over the final month of the regular season, Dallas lost to Philadelphia and Washington and barely got by Detroit and Carolina. All of that came after a commanding performance against Green Bay, which will host the Giants in the NFC championship next Sunday.

It also came after sweeping the Giants in the regular season behind two strong offensive performances; teams with two victories against another team usually win if they face them a third time. Instead, the Cowboys reversed the trend as their offense disappeared in the second half Sunday.

With 53 seconds remaining in the first half, Dallas was on pace to complete a sweep of the Giants. The Cowboys had taken a 14-7 lead on the strength of a nine-play, 96-yard drive and then a stunning 20-play, 90-yard drive. The second of the drives featured the Cowboys going six-for-six on third down.

But in the final seconds of the first half, the Giants turned this game on its ear. They drove 71 yards on seven plays in the span of 46 seconds, with quarterback Eli Manning going four of seven to account for all of the yardage. It was Manning's second straight efficient performance as he completed 12 of 18 for 163 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Among the throws was a pretty 22-yard toss to rookie wide receiver Steve Smith.

During the second half, Dallas couldn't get in any type of rhythm offensively. Gone were the big plays Romo and the Cowboys use to get their offense moving. They had only three plays longer than 10 yards the entire second half, topped by a 20-yard completion to tight end Jason Witten.

"That's what we were focused on taking away all game," Giants cornerback Aaron Ross said. "If we gave up something big, we just talked to each other and stayed focused on not giving up another one."

That was the plan in the secondary. Up front, the defensive line stopped thinking so much. In the two previous games, the Giants had focused on keeping Romo in the pocket instead of allowing him to freelance. In this game, the Giants threw caution to the wind and just chased Romo however they could.

"We just wanted to get in his face however we could, get his feet moving so he couldn't throw it that well," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. The results were good, particularly in the second half. On two different occasions, Romo either threw the ball short of his receiver or couldn't throw it at all even when a receiver was running open.

Dallas hurt its own cause with a series of penalties ranging from major to minor. The result was that the Cowboys had 12 situations in the second half in which they faced second or third down needing 10 yards or more.

That's a recipe for disaster. Moreover, it's a recipe for plenty of second-guessing. Was Romo ready? Did coach Wade Phillips push the right buttons at the end of the season? Should wide receiver Patrick Crayton, who talked a lot of trash and then dropped two key passes in the second half, just have shut his mouth?

If there is a good development from Dallas' loss, it's that the players seemed to rally together. In particular, wide receiver Terrell Owens showed great support of Romo. This is the same Owens who once trashed teammate and quarterback Donovan McNabb and before that ripped his coaches in San Francisco.

"This isn't about Tony," Owens said. "You guys can point the finger at him. You can talk about the vacations. And if you do that, it's wrong. It's not fair. It's really not fair. That's my teammate. That's my quarterback. If you guys do that, it's not fair. We lost as a team."

Likewise, Owens defended coach Wade Phillips. For a guy who was perceived as a cancer for so long, Owens played the role of tactful leader in the face of adversity.

Unfortunately, the adversity in the aftermath of this game isn't going to end anytime soon.