Eight days ago, the Dallas Cowboys felt like the unbeaten, invincible team of the NFL. It's obvious that anyone affiliated with the organization believed booking a trip to the Super Bowl was possible following a 34-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles to clinch the team's first playoff berth since 1996. Except on different turf, in a louder environment, in front of a blistering Minnesota Vikings' defense that couldn’t be denied on nearly each possession, Dallas collapsed.

The scoreboard rendered ugly results, and players' body languages evinced fatigue. Bruised and exhausted bodies sat on the sideline, literally ready to burst into tears. None of this was even imagined for the tough-minded, driven Cowboys. Not because they're recognized as America's team or as one of the wealthiest franchises in pro sports, but because of their high confidence level and unstoppable swagger that presented problems for the shaky Vikings.

In all fairness, a winning streak meant nothing and was unable to terrify Minnesota's defensive package. The four-game winning streak was a positive notion based on awful collapses, allowing frailty to dictate a wasteful season. But notice that Dallas was successful in passing their biggest test this season by avoiding December doom, a predicament that routinely dismantled the taste of Super Bowl triumph.

Although genuine vibes were felt, a three-hour contest turned into a three-hour horror fest and the Cowboys took gigantic steps backwards instead of advancing further. It would have been enough to banish the unpleasant anguish, which has delayed prosperity to an eternity in a town where football is a priority on any given Sunday.

No one had an ugly collapse in mind, anxiously awaiting the Cowboys to jump onto the saddle and gallop closer to the Super Bowl, a national holiday and prime-time fame that owner Jerry Jones has waited for patiently. From the long-awaited droughts and late season failures, Jones is distraught of all the downfalls tantalizing a franchise he truly invests millions in.

For all the haters and critical media outlets all have reason to criticize the Cowboys. But there is one positive thing to say about this Dallas team. After proving he's among the elite, you can’t blame Tony Romo or his latest performance on turf. Why even label Romo as a celebrity bust when he quarterbacked the Cowboys past the first round? Critics may want to stay silent.

He’s not a celebrity bust, and he proved it as he realized starlet and ex-girlfriend Jessica Simpson was a distraction and dumped her.

Romo also had to fend off all the paparazzi and was drained of the beleaguering photo shots. When alienated receiver Terrell Owens' temperamental traits started to drag down morale, the T.O. drama was dismissed, and it bolstered Romo's capacity.

So Romo is not the one to blame. It isn’t his fault that the Cowboys teetered and deflated. It isn't Wade Phillips' fault, either.

The last few years, Jones, the wealthiest owner in the league, shifted directions in the way he runs an unorganized business. So much has been said regarding the Cowboys' talent and its fragile seasons. It’s time to face the truth and understand that Mr. Jones is an egomaniac, a weasel concerned with divas and dramatic, action-packed football rather than addressing the missing pieces to help form an elite franchise.

Sunday afternoon, the signs were there. The Cowboys suffered a 34-3 loss to the Vikings, just short of reaching the NFC Championship game for a rematch against the New Orleans Saints. As the brink of elimination quickly approached, Romo sat frustrated on the bench and reflected back on what had became a miraculous season. He was furious after he was sacked six times and fumbled twice.

You can grasp a sense of what happened. The poor guy was severely abused by a vehement and uncontrolled Vikings defense. In previous weeks, Romo's superb footwork was an instrumental piece to damaging a defense on the ground. But this time he was smothered and harassed on nearly every possession by an energetic Ray Edwards, who wouldn't stop aggravating Romo.

It's too bad that Romo is to blame for the team's poor ability to orchestrate critical plays. I almost feel sorry for him, especially when he tried to direct this team to the grandest stage before the Super Bowl. But the deficient offensive line bailed out, absent in the biggest game of Romo's playing career as he watched his first playoff victory fundamentally break down.

On this day, he finished 22-35 with 198 yards and never lacked poise as he tried everything in his own power to keep the 'Boys in the game. They entered the game hoping to celebrate and win a playoff matchup on the road for the first time since the NFC Championship game in '92.

Glorious years could return with offseason turning points. Considering their inability to find a sturdy place kicker, the Cowboys need to find a reliable kicker, someone who could boot a long shot in critical moments. On a 4th-and-1 at the 30, embattled coach Wade Phillips summoned Shaun Suisham for a 49-yard attempt, but he hooked the kick wide left.

Often, Phillips has been on the coaching hot seat. I believe he's not the right coach for the Cowboys. His low-key, soft demeanor doesn't provide inspiration, but I guess they could leave the role of inspiration to a charismatic Keith Brooking, a veteran linebacker who has inspired teammates with his sideline speeches.

For now, the afternoon win is a nice one for Brett Favre. Though it may seem that he returned to the game seeking vengeance against Ted Thompson and Green Bay, he returned to win, and today he outplayed Romo by feeding off the turns.

At 40, Favre completed 15-24 passes for 234 yards thanks in large part to the emergence of wideout Sidney Rice, who played like Jerry Rice. He caught three touchdown passes, forcing us to forget Dallas' talented core of receivers like Austin Miles, Patrick Crayton, and Jason Witten.

If only Jones would realize the talent he has, he could start building around it and return Dallas to the title of America's franchise. Keep in mind that this is Jones' problem. Maybe he saw what we all did: a weak offensive line, a paltry kicker, and a soft coach. Maybe he realized this only after his 'Boys were so close.


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