Cowboys lose 3rd straight playoff-or-bust finale

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 this game

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 Sunday night.

On the first play after Dallas got the ball back with 1:49 to

play, Orton threw an interception – a ball thrown behind intended

receiver Miles Austin 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 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 has repeatedly said before even before Sunday night’s game

that coach Jason Garret’s job status isn’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 game.

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, then won 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 for 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 a fourth-down

touchdown late 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 a failed 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 by Connor Barwin. The Eagles then went 60

yards in 11 plays and scored on Bryce Brown’s 6-yard run.

Dallas is the third team to finish three consecutive seasons

with 8-8 records, according to STATS. The others were

Houston/Tennessee (1996-98) and Green Bay (1983-85).

Dan Bailey kicked three field goals for the Cowboys, the last

midway a 36-yarder midway through the third quarter when Dallas

failed to get a first down after Foles was sacked and fumbled.

DeMarcus Ware recovered at the Eagles 20.

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, though Bailey kicked a 44-yard field goal

before halftime.

Cowboys rookie tight end Gavin Escobar had a 17-yard TD, going

airborne and diving over safety Nate Allen midway through the

second quarter.

DeMarco Murray fumbled at the end of the Cowboys’ opening drive

of the game, leading to Alex Henery’s 47-yard field goal that put

the Eagles ahead to stay.

”I thought it was going to be our time,” Jones said. ”I

thought Orton played as well as we could have expected him to play

and every bit as well as I thought he could play.”