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Cowboys ride into the sunset - again

Updated: 2013-12-31 07:45
By Associated Press in Arlington, Texas ( China Daily)

With or without Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys have been a bust in win-or-go-home regular season finales against NFC East opponents.

For the third consecutive season, this time at home with Kyle Orton filling in for the injured Romo, the Cowboys lost their last game with a chance to get into the playoffs.

"It's unthinkable, really, to me to be sitting here three years in a row and this game ends up putting us at .500 and eliminates us from going to the playoffs," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

Nick Foles threw two touchdown passes, one to NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy, and Philadelphia won its first NFC East title since 2010 with a 24-22 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday night.

On the first play after Dallas got the ball back with 1:49 to play, Orton threw an interception - the ball sailing behind intended receiver Miles Austin and into the arms of cornerback Brandon Boykin.

That makes it a clean sweep for division opponents ousting the distinctly average Cowboys (8-8), who are 136-136 overall since the start of the 1997 season, with only one playoff victory in that span.

Dallas lost at Washington in last year's finale, and to the New York Giants in 2011. In the same situation five years ago, the Cowboys finished the season with a 44-6 loss at Philadelphia.

Jones repeatedly said in the days leading up to Sunday's game that coach Jason Garret's job status wasn't in jeopardy. Garrett took over midway through the 2010 season.

"I'm not discussing that at all. This isn't the time," Jones said after the loss.

Asked about any conversations he has had with Jones, Garrett said all his focus and energy had been on the final game.

"I'm not real concerned about that," Garrett said. "We all put a lot of time, effort, energy and guts into this game, and it's a disappointing loss for us."

The Cowboys were 1-7 when Garrett was promoted from offensive coordinator to replace the fired Wade Phillips. He then guided the Cowboys to victory in five of their last eight games.

But the Cowboys have been 8-8 in each of Garrett's three full seasons, though in position for a playoff berth until the final game each time.

"You just keep banging away," he said. "You just have got to be persistent. You just got to keep believing and somehow, some way, break through."

Orton completed 30 of 46 passes for 358 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his first start in two years, two days after Romo had back surgery for an injury sustained a week earlier in a victory at Washington when he threw for a late fourth-down touchdown that kept the Cowboys' playoff hopes alive.

Romo, the quarterback for those other heartbreaking finales, wasn't even able to be at the stadium for the finale while recovering from surgery.

Orton threw a 32-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant on a fourth-and-9 play with 3:50 left that got the Cowboys to 24-22. But Orton couldn't hook up with Bryant again on their 2-point conversion try.

Philadelphia couldn't get a first down and punted, but got the ball right back on the game-clinching pick.

Early in the fourth quarter, down 17-16, the Cowboys had fourth-and-1 at the Philadelphia 40 when Orton rolled out and had his pass batted down. The Eagles then went 60 yards in an 11- play touchdown drive.

Dan Bailey kicked three field goals for the Cowboys, the last a 36-yarder midway through the third quarter when Dallas failed to get a first down after Foles was sacked and fumbled the ball.

Just before halftime, Orton's pass was picked off by Mychael Kendricks near midfield. The Eagles scored on two passes from Foles to tight end Brent Celek.

Dallas is the third team to finish three consecutive seasons with 8-8 records. The others were Houston/Tennessee (1996-98) and Green Bay (1983-85).

(China Daily 12/31/2013 page23)