The Farewell: Ravens 32, Cowboys 24

IRVING, Texas -- Had Jerry Jones asked me, I would've closed Texas Stadium in three simple steps: 1. Beaten the Ravens on Saturday to power nearer a playoff berth. (Didn't happen.)

2. Thrown a beautifully choreographed post-game party featuring all the camera angles and all the interviews and just the right music and just the right mood. (Didn't happen.) 3. Arranged for Terrell Owens to join the legends in The Walk To The Star. … and then arrange for ol' George Teague to come out of nowhere to bury his ass. (Didn't happen.)

In fact, nothing about the Cowboys' performance in this "Farewell To Texas Stadium'' 32-24 loss to Baltimore was about power, choreography, or burying anybody's ass. It was all very awkward and unfortunate and lame and rather sad. …

ITEM: For three-and-a-half quarters, Dallas' damn-good defense kept the Cowboys afloat. Down just 9-7 at the half. … Down just 19-17 late ... And then, needing to make one play, to make one stop. … "damn-good'' turned into "dam-burst.'' Dallas allowed just 100-and-change rushing yards to the Ravens, not counting their final two carries.

After which, Dallas had allowed 267 yards rushing.

"I've never seen anything like that at the end of a game," said Cowboys coach Wade Phillips. "To have two long runs, when you normally don't give up a long run, with two blitzes on and both of them they got us with touchdown (runs). They couldn't run the ball on us the whole game. They had two plays that just broke our back."

When Willis McGahee sprinted 77 yards for his TD, and then on the next Baltimore possession, on their very next play, when Le'Ron McClain barreled 82 yards for his touchdown – McClain, who is built along the lines of the retired Larry Allen and should not be running 82 consecutive yards in any circumstance -- you had yourself two of the five longest runs by a Cowboys opponent in the history of Texas Stadium.

And it was history, alright.

ITEM: Oh, and here's your "Football Is A Game Of Inches'' Update from Saturday night. We've got two reports. First to defensive back Anthony Henry:

Late in the game, Joe Flacco throws a deep-out to Derrick Mason. Anthony Henry reads it perfectly, breaks on the ball perfectly, positions his arms to cradle the coming ball. He's going to intercept it and run it back for a long touchdown that will completely change the complexion of this game, probably win this game. … and somehow the ball zips right through his cradle and into the hands of Mason for a completion. What?

Thank you, Anthony. Now this report from defensive back Ken Hamlin:

Fumble! In the open field, out on what we used to call "the flank,'' with nobody and nothing between Ken Hamlin and the end zone. Hamlin has options:

Option 1: He can attempt to pluck the ball from the ground and sprint unbothered for the TD – as with Henry's whiff, the TD that will almost certainly win the game. A pluck attempt seems worth the risk; as long as he bobbles and dribbles the ball southward, he's pretty much the only player from either team who will end up with it. Additionally, Dallas' offense is ineffective enough that a smart defensive player might realize that this is as primo a scoring opportunity as might come down the pike.

Option 2: He can play it safe – and nothing wrong with that. He can fall on the ball, squeeze it, possess it, own it. He can treat it like a newborn baby, engulf it, secure it, protect it.

Somehow, Ken Hamlin invents a third option. He does not try to pluck-and-run. He does not try to bobble it south. He does not try to play it safe. He does not try to own it.

He rolls about with it. Tumbles about, like a child playing in a pile of leaves. And in doing so, exposes the ball that he has his hands on to all sorts of foul play. A Raven clunks into it. Another Cowboy gets involved. Now a 100-percent opportunity has gone 50-50. And it is Derrick Mason who gets the prize.

ITEM: Ken Hamlin. Bad tackling technique. Bad pursuit angles. Bad ball-hawking skills. Bad, Ken, bad.

"I'm shouldering all the blame and I don't mind it," Hamlin said. "I feel like I had opportunities to make plays to give us another opportunity to go out there and play, and I didn't live up to that. I'm definitely disappointed in myself, disappointed in my play, and I'll be hard on myself about this game."

Ken, you're going to have to stand in line and wait your turn. ITEM: If those walls had ears: My understanding is that Jerry Jones engaged Tony Romo in a "what-do-think-of-this-team? conversation. My understanding is also that ex-Cowboy Michael Irvin engaged in a "what-Michael-Irvin-thinks-of-this-team'' conversation with some of its members. And that Michael – in some ways still an emotional hub even a decade after his retirement – is not pleased.

I'm spit-wadding here, and I've not discussed this with Irvin or Jones. But maybe Valley Ranch would be a better, more inspired, more responsible place if Michael Irvin was on staff there?

ITEM: The temperature in Irving never got down to freezing. But Tony Romo's QB rating did. Both of his first-half interceptions were truly mindless, Farve'y aw-what-the-hell deep throws to receivers who weren't even close to being open. (Unless you count wide-open Bal'mer safety Ed Reed.) The second poor toss came just before halftime and led to a Baltimore freebie FG that allowed the Ravens to pop ahead 9-7. That first-half QB rating? It was 16.7. Freezing.

And it didn't go up much from there. Romo gets credit for a mini-comeback and he gets credit for rubbing some dirt on it and taping an aspirin to it and for trying to be heroic. At the same time, it should be noted: Guys play hurt. Ravens receiver Derrick Mason was out there recovering fumbles and catching game-winning TD passes with one wing.

The Sunday morning evidence is in: Romo tries to do too much. And the Pro Bowl voters got it right.

ITEM: A weird twist, isn't it, that the Baltimore Ravens had been the only NFL team never to play here? Good thing we squeezed ‘em in just in time.

ITEM: The Homecoming Game Trap. In high school and college, there isn't much the underdog can do about it: You get scheduled as somebody's homecoming game because you suck and because they fully expect/need to win. And then good ol' Oklahoma City Dental College & Culinary School loses to the Sooners by a score of 177-0.

I completely believe the rumor that the Cowboys intentionally scheduled the Ravens for the "Farewell'' game because as of last spring, Baltimore looked like a relative patsy.

‘Course, this isn't high school or college. The underdog, the patsy, gets to do something about it at this level of football.

Said McGahee: "It wasn't a homecoming game. It was more like a mock funeral.''

Added Baltimore's Terrell Suggs: "I hope they enjoyed their little ceremony.''

ITEM: Suggs, by the way, took a shot at Jason Garrett, who spurned Baltimore's interest in him as a head-coaching candidate to instead remain a top assistant in Dallas. "I wonder which team he wishes he was coaching now,'' said the linebacker, who them fabricated something about Garrett having questioned the Ravens' manhood.

Well, I'm sure Jason is happy in Dallas. But is Dallas happy with Jason? Everything dangles by a thread now. Everything and everybody. All the things you thought you knew about Wade Phillips' future and Jason Garrett's future. … dangling.

Thinkin' of firin' Wade, Mr. Jones?

"It's not even in my consideration,'' Jerry said, and of course it's not. Today.

ITEM: To the layman, one great failing here was in dealing with Baltimore's varying defensive fronts. The Cowboys' offensive line seemed confused, and played like it.

Said Romo, revealingly: "We had a little bit of trouble recognizing who was a linebacker, who was a down lineman.''

Meanwhile, Baltimore seems to use some simplicity against Dallas' attempts to move around sack-demon DeMarcus Ware. One time, when Ware moved from right end to left end to gain a matchup advantage, the Ravens responded by letting the generally immobile Flacco run a keeper for 14 yards around the spot just vacated by D-Ware.

ITEM: I guess we should include this non-takeaway, too, though it's a bit more hit-and-miss than the aforementioned: Dallas scores late to cut it to 19-17. Dallas kicks off. … and Baltimore fumbles on the return! If Dallas comes out of the pile with the ball, the Cowboys are down two with possession at the Baltimore 23 with four minutes to play. Three runs, a FG, and the thing is over.

But the Ravens recover. On the next play, Willis McGahee zips to a 77-yard touchdown run, one of three TDs in the final four minutes that make this tight, low-scoring game seem like something else altogether.

All on the bounce of a football.

ITEM: That third-and-short option pitch to rookie Tashard Choice, on which Choice – who played valiantly otherwise – bobbled the pitch and therefore didn't get the yardage? I guess that's why teams that don't often run the option. … don't run the option.

ITEM: What are Terrell Owens and Ed Werder getting each other for Christmas this year? How about some eau de toilette? How about … Obsession!?

ITEM: The game's been over for hours, and Miles Austin is still open deep.

ITEM: Maybe Joe Flacco goes on to greatness. I can see why people like the cut of his jib. But does a quality team really lose a playoff-affecting game in an emotional farewell to an iconic stadium to a rookie quarterback?

ITEM: A fitting thing about the last game at Texas Stadium: To telecast Cowboys-Ravens, the NFL employed the last two network announcers who should be allowed near a microphone. Seriously, I wouldn't let Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk announce the Texas Stadium "Battle of the Ax'' between Lewisville and Flower Mound High Schools.

Honestly, I appreciate the greatness of the two men as former players. And I covered Deion during his time at Valley Ranch. (In fact, let the record show that I was the newspaper/radio guy who broke the story of the Cowboys' planned acquisition of Sanders.) But they simply have no knack for play-by-play or color analysis, no true training (their voice quality and idiosyncrasies being, at best, a matter of taste) and no journalism-based understanding of even the most basic of notions, "The Five W's'' and all that.

ITEM: Example A: Seconds before kickoff – THE LAST KICKOFF IN THE HISTORY OF THE STADIUM – Deion choose to focus on, of all things, the mindset of Ravens kickoff specialist Matt Stover because Stover is from North Texas.

ITEM: Example B: During the week, Faulk accused the DFW media of being too soft on Romo and Garett and being too hard on Owens and Brian Stewart. Besides the obvious racial implications of Faulk's assertion, it is simply at least 75 percent inaccurate (Owens' treatment being a possible exception.) It was Faulk's focus during the week when he spoke to the media, it put him in the middle of a controversy, and then when the lights come on. … nothing. No deep discussion of how D-coordinator Stewart is picked on or how O-coordinator Garrett is coddled. None of the bluster from the days before? Why not? Where were the accusations of bias when it mattered most?

They were gone, because Marshall Faulk wouldn't know sound journalism if it bit him on the butt.

ITEM: Example C: Deion's No. 1 focus throughout the night was on. … Deion. He really seemed to think he was the story. Talking about his old toe injury. Referring to himself in the third-person. Seeing Pacman wearing No. 21 and giggling, a hint to the viewer who is really The No. 21. Telling stories of the pregame conversations he'd had and starting them all by quoting the interviewee as saying, "Well, ‘Prime'. …

I wonder, when the NFL Network (a complete mess, by the way) showed video tape of Deion doing some Christmas volunteer work (because Deion is The Story, you see) and Deion was shown wearing a Cowboys warmup. … I wonder if Marshall Faulk thought that was an example of unacceptable bias? Fellas: Doing the broadcast analysis of a game – whether it's high-school girls volleyball or the Super Bowl – isn't just a matter of "being talkative.'' It is, for starters, a matter of "The Five W's.''

And Deion and Marshall: When you take your very first formal lesson in communications or your very first formal lesson in journalism, and you get at least a D in the class, you will know that. ITEM: Or maybe the pre-game chest bump shared by Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and "impartial'' NFL Network employee Warren Sapp is the better representation of bias-free coverage?

ITEM: Ah, December. The month when the Cowboys annual give gifts.

ITEM: Jason Witten is one tough son of a gun. And even if Terrell Owens is right about "buddy systems'' and "freezing out'' and "rats'' – and you know, in the end Owens and Werder are kind of reporting the same story – once the game starts, I wish Dallas had more Jason Wittens.

ITEM: On the same day we said goodbye to Texas Stadium, Indianapolis said goodbye to the RCA Dome. Somehow, the razing of the RCA Dome doesn't have the same, what. … gravitas?

ITEM: A lot of the old Cowboys looked. … you know, old. Except for Tony Dorsett. How does he do that? Something he drinks? Something he eats?

I dunno. But I'll have what he's having.

ITEM: The NFL Network's post-game coverage of the Farewell to Texas Stadium was in HD. That's the best thing I can say about it. Local Channel 33's coverage of the event was not in HD. And that's the best thing I can say about it.

Somebody dropped the ball here. The NFL Network cannot be expected to do a polished job of the ceremony, which was MC'ed by Brad Sham and featured dozens and dozens of old Cowboys, including brief speeches by Roger Staubach and Emmitt Smith. (The NFL Network foolishly opted to focus on post-game locker room interviews – none of which were exactly "timeless.'') Channel 33 cannot be expected to do a polished job, either. (Though the graphics, the sound, the absence of a moderator, the intrusive ads and the queer background noise were of community-college-TV-class quality.)

I believe Jerry Jones is going to wake up someday and wonder if there is a DVD that can be sold that has recorded the "Farewell To Texas Stadium'' event that marked the 38-year-old life of the building. I believe he will then review the footage collected by the amateurs at both media outlets. And then I believe he will probably not make much money off such a DVD.

ITEM: Both Tony Romo and Terrell Owens need to learn that MB3 never, ever, ever gives up on a play. MB3 is a toe short of healthy (and maybe even a toe short of truly valuable, sad to say) but it doesn't curb his effort. Twice in the first half, Barber was pretty much bottled up, pretty close to going down, and Owens and then Romo found themselves standing idly by the pile – only to have MB3 attempt one more burst forward, fighting for one more inch.

And on both those additional efforts, he almost plowed straight into the vulnerable knees of stand-about teammates Owens and Romo.

ITEM: The Ravens run a fake-field-goal attempt and the holder stumbles ahead for a few yards and a first down and Deion Sanders sing-song screams:

"THIS IS FOOTBALL NFL NETWORK AT ITS BEST!!''

And you know what? A holder gaining a couple of yards for the Baltimore Ravens, and then Deion treating it as if Roger Staubach just threw a Hail Mary to Jim Brown that was intercepted by the late Sammy Baugh and then lateralled to Jesus Christ, who ran it in for the score?

Yes. This IS "football NFL Network at its best.''

ITEM: Fans booed at halftime. And for a chance, they weren't just directed at Owens.

ITEM: I guess Jerry Jones isn't the most powerful man in the NFL. Because if Jerry Jones was the most powerful man in the NFL, this game would've been telecast on a real network, one that was actually piped into American homes.

ITEM: Deep ball to T.O., and it's not too terribly thrown, and he's open. … but Terrell never really puts his hands out for it. Then, he does put his hands out – but it's a San Antonio Spurs Palms-Up Gesture, an announcement that it wasn't his fault, that he didn't do anything. And then the explanation from Deion Sanders that his buddy "lost the ball in the lights. … that happens here.''

Folks, I've been covering games at Texas Stadium since 1990. And I've NEVER heard that excuse before.

ITEM: I know, I know. Troy is busy working for Fox. But really, he couldn't have zipped around in a private plane to show his face in the building?

ITEM: Summarizing, from T.O.: We wanted to add to the history, we wanted to add to the celebration. Obviously, we didn't do that. We made history, but not the way we wanted to."

ITEM: The Cowboys are 9-6 and need some help and then need to win in Philly. The help might comes. But it would be much more comforting to the Dallas fan if this team was capable of helping itself.

ITEM: "Turn Out The Lights, The Party's Over.'' Late into the night, up on the decrepit old Texas Stadium video screens, they played Don Meredith crooning on "Monday Night Football,'' like the retired Cowboy used to do back in the day. Bittersweet, is what it was.

"Turn Out The Lights, The Party's Over.'' Indeed. Especially if these Cowboys don't find a way to sneak into the playoffs.

CowboysHQ Top Stories