NFL Nation: Ravens-Cowboys

 
 AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
 Tony Romo (252 yards passing) and the rest of the Cowboys couldn't break through against the Ravens.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

IRVING, Texas -- In a surreal scene that bordered on the absurd, the 2008 Cowboys crossed paths with men such as Drew Pearson, Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly and Michael Irvin on their way to the losing locker room Saturday night. It's too bad players synonymous with greatness were forced to be associated with a team that once again gagged when the stakes were at their highest.

Following a 33-24 loss to the Ravens, America's Team on Paper will have to try to back its way into the playoffs. And the one man offering alibis on the final regular-season night at Texas Stadium happens to own the club.

In a different time, perhaps Jerry Jones would've been tempted to fire head coach Wade Phillips on the spot. The man he entrusted to add some bite to his 3-4 defense failed on so many levels Saturday, but Jones stood by Phillips in his hour of need.

Jones was asked over and over to clarify his comments, in part because they didn't make a lick of sense. Even after watching the Ravens ice the game with 77 and 82-yard touchdown runs in the final 3:32 of the game, the owner blamed it on poor tackling, and said it had nothing to do with coaching.

"That floors me," he said. "Those are missed tackles."

Show of hands real quick: Did anyone see the Cowboys lay a hand on Willis McGahee as he raced toward relevance to give the Ravens a 26-17 lead? Jones, who spent several minutes in the closed locker room period asking quarterback Tony Romo to tell him what he saw out there, clearly thought Saturday's loss was on the players.

Asked whether he'd consider firing his head coach if the Cowboys missed the playoffs, Jones said, "Absolutely not. I don't have any inclination about any coaching changes. None. None."

He then rolled out an explanation that made its first appearance last month. Jones said Phillips is going to "do the best job of making his head coach look good." When I reminded him that Phillips was actually hired to be the head coach, Jones said he didn't want a "walk-around" head coach. Translation: He wants a head coach who also coordinates one side of the ball. The problem is that Phillips has always been more successful with only one of those roles -- and I don't need to tell you which one.

"Bill Parcells Jr. isn't gonna come in here," said Jones. "That's not a cure-all. As I stand here right now, it doesn't make sense [to make a change]. You look around at all the people who have changed and then how many people end up winning the Super Bowl."

The Cowboys (9-6) now find themselves on the outside looking in for the final wild-card playoff spot. They will root for the Bucs, Falcons, Eagles to lose Sunday and the Bears to fall Monday. Then they'll need to take care of business Dec. 28 in the regular-season finale in Philadelphia, which seems like such a far-fetched idea in the wake of Saturday's performance.

"We had control over our own destiny and now we don't," Phillips said in a quiet voice. "That's unfortunate. The only good thing about it was that they are an AFC team."

I'm not sure that was the silver lining Cowboys fans were looking for, Wade. One of the reasons Jones might be so supportive of Phillips is that the head-coach-in-waiting Jason Garrett's stock is in a free-fall. Until it was in a desperate situation late in the game, the Cowboys' offense didn't accomplish anything meaningful. Heading into the fourth quarter, Romo had thrown for 72 yards and two interceptions.

Garrett's "Twilight Zone" moment came on a key short-yardage situation early in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys were trailing 16-7, but they faced a third-and-1 at the Ravens' 16-yard line. Garrett called for Romo to run an option play to rookie Tashard Choice. Phillips claims the team has worked on the play in practice, but it wasn't ready for prime time. Choice couldn't handle the pitch, and the Cowboys settled for a 35-yard field goal.

For the better part of the game, Choice was the only reliable option. He had 17 carries for 90 yards and he was certainly capable of getting a couple of inches up the middle in that situation. It was a case of an assistant coach getting cute when there was no need for style points. The irony is that he could've been on the opposing sideline. The Ravens were prepared to name him their head coach, but Jones coughed up $3 million to keep Garrett in Dallas and Baltimore hired John Harbaugh. At least one team is getting its money's worth.

Romo threw two made-to-order interceptions to All-Pro safety Ed Reed, the second one setting the Ravens up for a go-ahead field goal before halftime. He then missed a wide-open Miles Austin in the third quarter on a deep ball that would've put the Cowboys on top, 14-9.

"I told Jerry when he came in the locker room that when you play these guys that are in our division you start to get the beat on things," Romo said. "But it took us a good three quarters to understand who was what and what position each individual was playing. I give them credit. They did a good job of keeping us off balance."

It's too bad the Cowboys couldn't figure things out in the final game at Texas Stadium -- especially since Jones apparently petitioned the league for the Cowboys to play the Ravens because it once looked like a winnable game. Jones sort of confirmed that theory to me after the game, but I couldn't tell whether he was joking. It didn't matter to the Ravens.

"We had a lot of politics that really made this game more fun," said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. "They personally recommended us as their homecoming opponent. We fed off it the whole game. We hope they enjoy their ceremony tonight, but I guess we were the dynamite."

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

No controversial calls, and no more scoreboard watching for potential playoff scenarios.

The Baltimore Ravens' 2008 season has come down to four simple words: Win and they're in.

Two of Baltimore's "three-headed monster" struck big in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 33-24 road win over the Dallas Cowboys (9-6). Ravens tailbacks Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain  ran for 77 and 82 yards, respectively, on back-to-back offensive plays to put the final touches on Texas Stadium and possibly the Cowboys' season.

The Ravens' duo combined for 247 rushing yards and now the team is sitting pretty. All Baltimore needs is a victory Sunday at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) to secure the sixth seed in the AFC.

Baltimore (10-5) showed no ill effects from last week's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, which ended on a controversial touchdown. The Ravens for the most part controlled Saturday's game and led for the entire second half.

There is no doubt this is Baltimore's biggest victory of the season, particularly on the road with its playoff destiny on the line. Now the Ravens can return home in another big game at M&T Bank Stadium, where they are 5-2 this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

IRVING, Texas -- The Cowboys waited until it was too late to finally play with a sense of urgency and they left their longtime residence on a sour note. After spotting the Cowboys an early touchdown following a Joe Flacco fumble, the Ravens settled down and took over Saturday night's game in a 33-24 win.

And at 10-5, they're still in the thick of things in the AFC wild-card playoff race. The Cowboys will need to beat the Eagles and hope the Falcons and Bucs lose tomorrow. Before the game, it seemed like the Cowboys would have all the intangibles -- especially with all the closing ceremonies at Texas Stadium.

But it was the Ravens who played like a desperate team. Flacco was sacked five times, but other than the early fumble, he did a great job of protecting the ball. He also made big plays when he had to. It was a heroic effort for veteran Ravens receiver Derrick Mason. On his touchdown late in the third quarter he had to run down the field with one arm to his side because of an injury. He lulled cornerback Anthony Henry to sleep and then snuck to the corner of the end zone, where Flacco found him for the score.

Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo had one of his worst nights as a pro. He threw two costly interceptions to Ed Reed -- the second setting the Ravens up for the go-ahead field goal at halftime.

And it was a kid who grew up about 20 minutes from Texas Stadium in Lake Highlands, Matt Stover, who kept delivering field goals. The only thing that worked for the Cowboys was feeding the ball to Tashard Choice on the ground, but offensive coordinator Jason Garrett inexplicably went away from him during key stretches.

Romo had T.O. open on a deep ball late in the first half, but the receiver never found the ball and it fell harmlessly to the ground. On another play in the second half, Romo had Miles Austin running wide-open after a Ravens safety stumbled. Romo threw the ball on a line -- perhaps because he was worried about Reed -- and the Cowboys missed another great opportunity.

The Ravens were clinging to a 19-17 lead with just over three minutes to go, but running back Willis McGahee took a handoff up the middle and raced 77 yards for a touchdown. Cowboys defensive end Marcus Spears and safety Ken Hamlin dived at McGahee's ankles, but no one else had a shot.

After the Cowboys scored with 1:33 left, the Ravens struck again with an 82-yard touchdown. The 50-minute postgame ceremony to close down Texas Stadium will seem more like a funeral tonight.

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