IRVING, Texas — Tony Romo sat alone on the Dallas bench, his stare frozen at the ground on a cold night in Washington.
Any number of things could have been going through the mind of the Cowboys quarterback in the final minutes of a 28-18 loss to the Redskins on Sunday night — his third playoffs-or-bust failure in five years in a finale against an NFC East rival.
Maybe it was his latest big mistake in a huge moment, an interception that helped Washington clinch the win. Or his famous flub on the hold for what could have been a game-winning field goal in his first playoff game six years ago at Seattle. Or that the Cowboys still had a chance so late in a season notable for the death of a teammate and injuries to so many key players.
“It stings,” said Romo, who dropped to 1-6 in elimination games with Dallas. “You put your heart into this thing for so long, throughout the year, this offseason. We had to overcome a lot of stuff just to get ourselves in this situation.”
The words of tight end Jason Witten when he arrived at training camp — “can’t be the same old story” — haunt the Cowboys now because it was. Mistakes and poor game management cost them some wins early in the season. Interceptions — nine of them — piled up on Romo in two losses. After winning five of six to regain control of their playoff fate, the Cowboys dropped the last two.
In the recent series of winner-take-all finales, the Cowboys have been swept by their three division rivals. Philadelphia blew them out in 2008, and the New York Giants took a 21-0 lead in a 31-14 victory last season.
Romo had the ball 85 yards from the end zone against the Redskins, with plenty of time to lead a scoring drive that could have ended a two-year playoff drought. Instead, he floated a pass that leaping Redskins linebacker Rob Jackson grabbed, and now Dallas is missing the postseason for the fourth time in Romo’s six full seasons as the starter.