In the Cheap Seats: First round embarrassment couldn't have - and never has - happened to a better team

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Jan. 14, 2008 - Mark Cuban and Avery Johnson must have been happy on Sunday. Finally, another Dallas team choked in the playoffs to take the focus on what the Mavericks didn't accomplish the last two years.

While the Cowboys' implosion yesterday, 21-17 to the Giants, may not have been as shocking as what happened to the Mavericks each of the last two postseasons, it was just as nauseating.

A team that went 13-3 in the regular season can't beat a wildcard team at home. It's the first time in the 17 years since the league went to a 12-team playoff format that it had ever happened.

It couldn't have happened to a better team.

The Cowboys had a league-record 12 players voted to the Pro Bowl. That includes three offensive linemen who went out and committed five false start penalties and a personal foul, gave up two sacks and allowed their quarterback to get knocked down 12 more times. That included Roy "which way did he go" Williams and Terrell Owens, who apparently couldn't get open against a second-string cornerback and a safety who was just signed off the practice squad.

The Cowboys hired a head coach who had never won a playoff game to take them to the Super Bowl. Instead, his team commits 11 penalties, wastes time outs and has players out of position after 16 regular season games. How did that hire work out for you, Jerry?

To borrow a phrase from Fort Worth columnist and radio personality Randy Galloway, it's Overreaction Monday. Here are my overreactions:

n Cut Patrick Crayton. The mouthy wide receiver dropped two third-down conversion passes, which was particularly galling. But, with 16 seconds left in the game, he quit running on an end zone pattern that would have resulted in a game-winning touchdown (assuming he actually catches the ball). To quit when the team's season is on the line is inexcusable.

Also, the Cowboys used their final timeout with 26 seconds remaining because of Crayton. QB Tony Romo said, "Patrick was tired and wasn't getting set, so I had to call a timeout."

That kind of loser mentality is all you need to know about the biggest mouth this side of T.O. Cut Crayton now.

n Scout your own offense. In the last four weeks, the Cowboy's offense was pedestrian. On Sunday, with the Giants woefully thin in the secondary, neither Owens nor Crayton nor Terry Glenn could get deep. The Giants couldn't double-team everyone, so why couldn't receivers find an opening?

Two other head-scratchers: Anthony Fasano dropping a TD pass in the third quarter. Why wasn't Jason Witten in the game at tight end rather than Fasano? And why wasn't Witten in the pass route on the final play of the game? He was kept in to block while just three receivers went out. No wonder no one was open.

n Wading in over his head. Perhaps Wade Phillips - who is 0-4 in the postseason - simply can't win the big games. He seems to want to disregard anything negative or any aspect that needs to be addressed. It doesn't matter how many regular season games a team wins, its season is based on how it performs in the playoffs.

Having a team penalized 11 times means the players weren't focused and weren't ready.

n Fix the special teams. A 25-yard punt return that set up the game-winning drive, a muffed punt, and then using a precious time out on a punt return because there were too many players on the field. That mental lapse is inexcusable. This isn't a preseason game, though the Cowboys played like it.

n Can anyone cover? Trade Roy Williams, cut Jacques Reeves and find secondary players who can actually cover a receiver. The Giants' TD drive in the final 47 seconds of the first half shows how pitiful those two players are. Their job was to cover the medium out route, yet four completions were made to their side. The end result was a momentum-sucking TD for the Giants.

The Cowboys have to make major changes in their attitudes and their mental focus. The good new for them is they have plenty of time after cowering down to the Giants.

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