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Doomed day: Cowboys fall, 20-10


05:19 AM CST on Monday, January 2, 2006

By JEAN JACQUES TAYLOR / The Dallas Morning News

IRVING – Owner Jerry Jones walked onto the Texas Stadium field at about 6:15 p.m. Sunday, knowing the Cowboys still had an opportunity to make the playoffs.

Two minutes later, a dejected Jones trudged back up the tunnel after he watched on the video board as Washington returned a fumble for a game-clinching touchdown against Philadelphia, which eliminated Dallas from the playoffs.

"I just looked up and down the bench at the coaches and the work that had gone into the season," said Jones, who spent $32 million in signing bonuses in the off-season to add five significant free agents to the roster.

"I looked up in the stands at the fans that support us and thought about the commitment that we had made all year long. I thought we were going to end up with a better taste in our mouth."

Four hours later, a bad day turned worse.

St. Louis ended a four-game losing streak with a 20-10 victory over the Cowboys before an announced crowd of 63,131 at Texas Stadium.

Now, there is nothing to ease the sting of the greatest collapse in franchise history.

There's no 10-win season for the franchise. No 1,000-yard season for Julius Jones, who fell 7 yards short.

Not even a victory over the lowly Rams, who have been playing for nothing but pride since Thanksgiving Day.

This is not the way Jones and coach Bill Parcells wanted to ring in the New Year.

But there were too many mistakes – four turnovers, a season-high 10 penalties and a bevy of dropped passes and poor throws – for the Cowboys to overcome.

"Nine and seven is disappointing," Jones said. "I didn't think I'd be this disappointed at the end of the day."

Neither did coach Bill Parcells, who wanted to win 10 games for the second time in three seasons. Instead, a season full of fantastic finishes and tenuous moments ended with a thud.

"This is a disappointing way to finish. I think we were a little deflated mentally, especially our offensive group," Parcells said. "We just seemed to not be on edge in light of what happened today."

Parcells, who has a year left on his contract, said he will take some time to decide his future. There have been reports that he's contemplating retirement.

"I'm just going to get away for a few days," he said.

Jason Witten's 19-yard touchdown catch gave Dallas a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, and a 22-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham tied the score at 10-10 with three seconds left in the first half. But the Rams grabbed the lead for good on Arlen Harris' 1-yard run with 11:57 left in the game.

The Cowboys started the day needing a loss by Carolina or Washington for their game against the Rams to have playoff implications.

Washington's 31-20 victory eliminated Dallas from the playoffs about an hour before the Cowboys' final regular-season game.

Earlier in the day, Carolina routed Atlanta, 44-11, meaning a Washington loss was the only way Dallas could make the playoffs.

The Cowboys had a chance to be the first NFC team since 1991 and the first in franchise history to win 10 games and fail to make the playoffs.

No other team in the franchise's 46-year history has started 7-3 and failed to advance to the postseason.

December road losses to division rivals New York (17-10) and Washington (35-7) were part of a stretch in which Dallas lost three of four games. That left the Cowboys needing help to get into the playoffs.

While Parcells made it clear during the week that he wasn't going out of his way to find out the result of the two games that would decide the Cowboys' fate, the team made it easy on fans who wanted to monitor the Philadelphia-Washington game.

Televisions throughout the stadium were tuned to the game, and many fans clutching beverages and eating hot dogs watched the action before the game.

For those already in their seats, the Cowboys showed the game on both giant video boards.

Jones was actually picking up empty Gatorade bottles in the corner of the end zone when he heard a collective groan from the crowd.

That's when he turned, looked at the video board and saw Washington's Sean Taylor diving into the end zone.

Defensive end Greg Ellis stood, hands on hips, looking at the play.

"This game is not indicative of our season," Parcells said. "By and large, the team has been better than what it showed tonight."

E-mail jjtaylor@dallasnews.com

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