- Calvin Watkins, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. --It was an embarrassing beginning followed by a hard-fought comeback, then an ending that left the Dallas Cowboys stunned Sunday night.
In a win-or-go-home game, the Cowboys fell to the New York Giants, 31-14, ending their 2011 regular season.
The Giants clinched the NFC East and the fourth seed in the conference. The Cowboys head home losers for the seventh consecutive time on "Sunday Night Football" and thinking about a season in which they missed so many opportunities.
What it means? The Cowboys' season is over. For the first time since 2004 and 2005 they will miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons. You can blame the five fourth-quarter leads lost during the season, the season-ending injury to running back DeMarco Murray or not taking advantage of a weak schedule.
Draft position: The Cowboys will have the 14th pick of the NFL draft in April. They are tied with seven other teams at 8-8 but their strength of schedule is .473, which places them at 14.
Secondary problems: Where do we begin with the Cowboys secondary? Terence Newman had a terrible first half, getting beat on short and deep throws. In the fourth quarter, Orlando Scandrick gave up a 44-yard reception to Victor Cruz on a third-and-7 that lead to a touchdown. Newman was beat on a 36-yard strike to Hakeem Nicks across the middle late in the game, a play in which he was hurt.
The sneak that failed: Faced with a fourth-and-1 at the Giants 10, quarterback Tony Romo was stopped for no gain with 13:56 to play. Romo appealed to the referees about the spot, but a measurement showed the Cowboys were still short by a foot.
Cowboys lose Kosier; Jenkins plays hurt: Starting right guard Kyle Koiser left in the third quarter with a left knee injury. He was replaced by Kevin Kowalski. Mike Jenkins aggravated his injured shoulder in the first half and was reduced to third-down plays. Orlando Scandrick and Terence Newman got the majority of snaps. Newman suffered an unknown injury with 3:46 to play when he landed hard after chasing Hakeem Nicks. He was on his back for several minutes before getting helped off the field.
Romo's night: Tony Romo played with a bruised right hand that didn't give him too many problems Sunday night. He completed 29 of 37 passes for 289 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also fumbled once, the Cowboys' last offensive play of the season. Romo was under pressure most of the night and did a nice job of getting out of it, but his team was down 21-0, a deficit that proved too much to overcome.
What's next? The Cowboys' coaches will prepare to travel to the various postseason events to scout prospective draft picks. The Senior Bowl is the first big one in mid-January. Several players most likely will have some sort of surgery to repair ailments.