Nine Lessons, Nothing Learned

Seventeen games and just nine of them wins and what did we spend all the 2006 season learning about your Dallas Cowboys?

Not a damn thing.

Maybe as much as any edition of the team in the franchise's 46-year history, coach Bill Parcells' Cowboys dropped the ball (literally) in Saturday's 21-20 first-round playoff loss at Seattle in such a way as to cause everyone involved to question everything they thought they knew.

Let me start this dissection of a bizarre loss with an email I received before the game from reader "JJ,'' who wrote:

"How arrogant and unintelligent is Fisher?

... What a typical media idiot. ... Doesn't this reporter realize his bread is buttered by people like Parcells? ... Parcells is a Hall-of-Fame coach! Is there anywhere for Fisher to go -- other than his articles lining the garbage can?!''

I replied to "JJ'' before the game as I address you now: This would be a good time to re-issue Parcells' own dismissal of such ill-timed praise.

"Let's not send him to Canton just yet, OK, fellas?''

As a Cowboys coach, Parcells is NOT a Hall-of-Famer. He is, in fact, a just-a-smidge-above-.500 coach. And these Cowboys, with their 9-8 overall record featuring four losses in their final five games, are a just-a-smidge-above-.500 team.

Nine wins. All that money. All that talent. All that self-important puffery. Nine wins. In (dis)honor of that number, I spit out "Nine Reasons The Cowboys' Playoff Loss In Seattle Teaches Us Nothing'':

9) Tony Romo, making his first career playoff start, committed the boner of a lifetime -- and he wasn't even playing quarterback. Dallas lined up for a 19-yard game-winning field goal with 1:19 remaining. Somehow, Romo butterfingered the snap, ran for his life, and was squashed, along with the Cowboys' hopes.

"I cost the Dallas Cowboys a playoff win,'' said standup-guy Romo, who was also just 17-of-29 for 189 yards. "That's going to sit with me a long time. I don't know that I've ever felt this low. ...''

Combine Romo's sudden 2006 celebrity with this high-profile gaffe and he may have just carved out for himself a chunk of Bill Buckner-like infamy.

Weren't we counting on Romo to be cool as ice in this one? We've learned nothing.

8) Cowboys players pay extensive lip service to the "explosiveness'' of their offense. Even owner Jerry Jones fell into the trap, noting that Terrell Owens, for all his baggage, got us in the playoffs. When we walked out here tonight, we had a better chance to win with Terrell on the team than Terrell not being on the team.'' Indeed, it all looks good on paper. But in his biggest game of the year -- and maybe the biggest of his career, given the possibility that it would determine his future in Dallas and/or elsewhere -- T.O. contributed two insignificant catches for 26 meaningless yards. Oh, and naturally, he mixed in a drop. Terry Glenn fumbled to hand Seattle a safety and hung onto little else.

And that was about it for "explosiveness.''

Weren't we counting on Seattle's depleted secondary to be roasted by Owens and Glenn and the rest? We've learned nothing.

7) Did anybody in a Cowboys uniform have an especially good game? Julius Jones plowed for 112 yards and came up big in the fourth. Rookie linebacker Bobby Carpenter picked a nice time to offer up his only solid game of the season. Miles Austin returned a kickoff 93 yards for a TD. And that really might have been it.

A playoff game, a possible Parcells swan song, and this is all the coach can get out of these guys? Three decent performances?

Weren't we counting on Parcells to successfully push 47 motivational buttons? We've learned nothing.

6) Do the Cowboys ever adjust from their base 3-4 defense depending on the opponent's offensive personnel? Despite recent talk of playing some 4-3, and despite employing extra defensive backs on the roster, it seemed every time Seattle instituted a three-receiver set, Dallas stubbornly remained in its base D. Next thing you know, safeties (like the overmatched Roy Williams) are covering wideouts and linebackers are covering tight end Jerramy Stevens (five catches for 77 yards and two TDs).

Weren't we expecting defensive guru Parcells to team with Mike Zimmer to tailor an alignment to combat the Seahawks' multiple-receiver sets and cover up for safety deficiencies? We've learned nothing.

5) In the final six-or-so minutes, the Cowboys a)saw Terry Glenn fumble backwards into the end zone for a Seattle safety; b)had a critically important Jason Witten first-down reception to the 1-yard line reversed, causing a fourth down; c) followed that up with the botched FG, yet another demonstration of Tony's Romortality.

Execution. Precision. Mental toughness. Supposed hallmarks of Parcells teams, all this season laughably inappropriate words to use to describe these Cowboys.

Weren't we counting on at least executing to precision, win or lose? We've learned nothing.

4) Austin's kickoff return is the first such TD in Cowboys playoff history. More importantly, it provided the Cowboys with a 20-13 lead going into the final quarter. Heck, with 6:48 left, the Dallas defense even chipped in a possession-changing goalline stand.

Combine the momentum of an unprecedented play with a Parcells team holding a 20-13 lead and a rare highlight for this troubled defense. You win that game, right?

Weren't you looking forward to a trip to Chicago? We've learned nothing.

3) Owner Jerry Jones wasted no time after the game pushing emotion to the side and handling his business by issuing an immediate invitation to the hemming-hawing Parcells to return in 2007. "I respect him I think he's an outstanding coach, I have enjoyed working with him and will continue to enjoy working with him,'' Jones said. "I do want Bill to continue being coach of the Cowboys.''

Jerry makes it sound so simple. But the boss has spent, what, 20 million head-coaching dollars in four years for zero playoff wins? If Parcells moves on, Dallas must start over. If Jones eases him out, Jerry goes down in history as the man who fired Landry, Johnson and Parcells.

Weren't we assuming all along that Parcells staying would be the best thing for the franchise, a no-brainer? We've learned nothing.

2) The Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since 1996. In fact -- and this is a nauseating fact -- in those 10 years, 13 of the NFC's other 16 teams have won a postseason contest. In that sense, the Cowboys have been arguably the least-successful team in the conference for a decade.

"I feel empty,'' Jones said. "It almost feels like fate.''

Fate? AGAINST the Cowboys? Weren't we figuring that between the "America's Team'' factor and maybe just the luck of the draw, the Cowboys would someday win one of these friggin' things? We've learned nothing.

1) I talk about this all the time: Getting into the tournament is all that matters, because once you arrive there, anything can happen. Parcells recognizes that, saying after the loss, "To see the opportunity go out the window on something like that (FG screw-up). ... we're (that error) away from being one of the eight teams left. That's what bothers you.''

Weren't we assuming Dallas would be one of the NFC's best four teams? Weren't we figuring Bill Parcells would be the difference-maker? Weren't we certain that the newly-added sparks of Tony Romo and Terrell Owens would separate Dallas from mediocrity?

In a way, it would have been easier, better, had Dallas gotten blown out in Seattle. Then we'd at least KNOW something.

Instead. ...

Nine wins. In 17 tries.

We've learned nothing.

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