How to ‘Savor' This Stinkaroo?

I once asked Troy Aikman why he often remained on the field to handle the mundane chores of handoffs and kneel-downs at the end of Cowboys blowout wins. With victory assured, why not retire to the sideline, don a baseball cap and pass the slight threat of injury to his little-used backup?

"You work so hard all week to try to beat the other team,'' Aikman answered back in the mid-90's, when they sure did administer a lot of beatings. "And now the thing is winding down, and you were a part of it. … Why not savor it? Being in the game when you know the outcome is going to be good, that's one of the best parts of playing.''

For me, that same logic could have applied to Aikman's 2007 heirs, a championship-caliber Cowboys team, as this "thing is winding down.'' Why not be in the game? Why not be a part of it? Why not savor it? Especially when you know the outcome – not against the Redskins on this particular Sunday, but beyond that – is going to be good?

This bears repeating: The specific outcome of Sunday afternoon's regular-season finale in Washington – a 27-6 embarrassment that nevertheless allows Dallas to settle in as the NFC's top playoff seed at 13-3 -- is completely beside the point.

I know it doesn't feel that way right now. The hated Redskins can argue that gave themselves a confidence injection that could cause D.C. to feel pretty good about a potential rematch with Dallas in the playoffs two weeks hence. But let's be logical here: The Cowboys will be a solid favorite at Texas Stadium in a couple of weekends, no matter the foe. And the Redskins – confident or not – would be wise to first survive a postseason opener at Seattle. Again, something about this loss is slightly haunting in the wake of an offensive effort that saw:

· The Cowboys rush for a franchise-record 1 yard.

· Dallas' offense finish a month during which it averaged just 15 points per game.

· Tony Romo struggle to complete seven of his 16 passes for 86 yards, including one pick.

· The receiving corps wilt without the presence of the injured Terrell Owens. That's not to let the defense off the hook. Or the special teams. Or the coaching staff. Or the bus drivers, the pregame-meal caterers or the flight attendants on the ride home.

"The word for us,'' coach Wade Phillips said, "was ‘uninspired.'''

So what's to "savor''? Why even be on the field? Why even show up?

Well, there is no right answer to how to do this, no right answer as to whether you should show up. In fact, each of the four NFL teams that have spent 2007 atop the league – New England at Indianapolis in the AFC, Dallas and Green Bay in the NFC – talked of offering its own distinct wrinkle.

Word from Indianapolis is that the powerful Colts might keep Payton Manning in their meaningless-to-them Sunday night game because the QB wanted to throw for 55 yards – giving him an even 4,000 – before exiting. He did so and left in the second quarter of an eventual 16-10 loss to Tennessee. (Sounds kinda cheap, but if that's his way of savoring it. …)

In Green Bay, the coaching staff announced early in the week that it wanted its starters to go all out in Sunday's meaningless game against Detroit, eventually won by the Pack 34-13. Then came Sunday morning, and the Packers' inactives were announced: All seven of them important first-teamers. (Sounds kinda indecisive, but. …) And of course, we're all aware of what the Patriots did. Pedal to the metal. Balls to the wall. Tom Brady played the whole game Saturday night and got his record 50th TD pass. Randy Moss played the whole game and got his record 23rd TD catch. New England became the highest-scoring team of all-time, and with a win over the Giants, moved to 16-0 to become the greatest regular-season team of all-time. (History has a way of motivating a team, eh?)

So, no, there is no right answer for how to mail one in. We do know this, though: The Cowboys have now closed eight straight seasons with a loss. That's Week 17, eight straight times, eight "meaningless'' games, and eight losses. … this time without starters playing big minutes, without studs like Terrell Owens and Andre Gurode playing at all, and without any Wade Phillips "inspiration.''

But check it out: The Cowboys are, to paraphrase the young Troy Aikman, "in the game.'' So we should get over this D.C. debacle by "savoring'' what it meant. Which is nothing.

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