IRVING, Texas - Say this about the 2008 Dallas Cowboys: They sure do make things interesting.
A season that began with Super Bowl hype, then seemed lost because of sloppy play, injuries and infighting, was salvaged enough for Dallas to go into Saturday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens on the verge of a wild-card berth.
Getting an extra boost from the emotionally charged atmosphere of the final game at Texas Stadium, the Cowboys jumped ahead with an early touchdown - only to end up losing, 33-24.
Thus, more drama, even yesterday, when Dallas wasn't playing.
The Cowboys (9-6) needed the right combination of wins and losses to remain alive and, for the most part, got it with the Buccaneers (9-6) and Eagles (8-6-1) losing. So Dallas still has a chance to get in with a victory next Sunday against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Because they defeated the Bucs (9-6) earlier in the season, the Cowboys would have a good chance of making the playoffs by beating the Eagles.
The agonizing part for the Cowboys is that if they'd beaten the Ravens, they would have had a chance to clinch with a Chicago loss tonight.
"It's all just part of a full season," quarterback Tony Romo said. "We've got to find a way to grind it out and get into the tournament. If you get in, you have a chance. It's a matter of doing the things it takes to get you in position.''
While Romo talked, the never-a-dull-moment theme played out in the locker room. Terrell Owens was munching on popcorn and team owner Jerry Jones kept repeating his own words while professing the job security of head coach Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.
"I don't have any inclination about any coaching changes. None. None . . . I don't see that as an issue," Jones said. "It just doesn't make any sense."
Asked whether things might change if Dallas misses the playoffs, Jones said, "Let's try again [with this staff] if we don't make it. Seriously.
"I mean, you don't think for one minute that Bill Parcells Jr. is going to come in here and do any good, do you?" Jones continued. "Think about it. Think about it . . . This is exactly how I feel right now, and it's not that fragile. It's just not that fragile."
After challenging reporters to "look at how many people change and then how many end up winning the Super Bowl," then questioning the logic of spending millions on a coach just because of his reputation (like, say, Parcells) or because of his success in college (like, say, Jimmy Johnson), Jones went back to the repeat-speak: "That is not a consideration, just not a consideration."
Phillips and Garrett certainly wouldn't want their fate decided by the Ravens game.
Garrett's offense was out of whack the first three quarters, racking up more punts (six) than first downs (five). Baltimore had Romo fooled with a blitz scheme that sent someone at Romo without being blocked nearly every time he dropped back. The pressure forced bad decisions and bad throws, some coming even on the plays when his protection held up.
Things finally clicked in the fourth quarter and the offense began stacking up big plays. That's when the defense allowed even bigger ones. On the final two handoffs to a Baltimore running back, the Ravens tied the record for the longest run by a foe in the 313-game, 38-season history of Texas Stadium, then broke that record. Willis McGahee went 77 yards, then Le'Ron McClain went 82.
"Devastating," linebacker Greg Ellis said. "It was like, 'What the heck?' You're talking about back-to-back."
Said Owens: "As a whole, we stunk it up."
The loss drops Dallas to 1-2 in December. That guarantees a 12th straight season without a winning record in this pivotal month. *