Cowboys fall to Lions, skid into playoffs

IRVING, Texas (Dec. 31, 2006) -- No, losing to the Detroit Lions does not revoke the playoff spot the Dallas Cowboys had already clinched.

It just means they're in a mess of trouble heading into what Bill Parcells likes to call "the tournament."

Done in by repeated mistakes from Tony Romo and a few more by Terence Newman, the Cowboys blew their chance to stay alive in the NFC East race and build some much-needed momentum for the playoffs with a 39-31 loss to the lowly Lions on Sunday.

"I can't tell you how disappointed I am. I really can't," Parcells said, his tone more deflated than irate. "This is the low point for me in a long time."

Detroit would've been better off losing this game and locking up the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

But even the Lions (3-13) couldn't refuse all the gifts the Cowboys gave them, from a penalty on Newman wiping out an interception return for a touchdown on the game's first snap to Romo failing to scramble into the end zone from the 6-yard line on the final play that mattered.

In between, Romo threw an interception and lost two fumbles, Newman muffed a punt and there were plenty more mental errors by their teammates.

"Too many things that beat you, we did today," Parcells said.

It could get worse Saturday night when the Cowboys (9-7) play a first-round game at Seattle.

Dallas goes into the playoffs on its first two-game losing streak of the season and having dropped three of four. There are plenty of reasons for it, from Romo looking more like a career backup than a Pro Bowler, to the defense being at its worst.

The Cowboys have allowed 132 points the last four games, the exact amount they gave up the previous eight games. Realizing a change may be needed, Dallas tested out a lot of different formations and player combinations; they'll have to go back to the drawing board considering Detroit scored its most points in 63 games, since the 2003 opener.

"We are definitely going in backwards from the way we wanted to," said Romo, who was 23-of-32 for 321 yards with two touchdowns. "We may not scare anyone right now. We win a game or two and that will change."

Detroit's Jon Kitna was 28-of-42 for 306 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. He set the club record for completions in a season and joined Scott Mitchell as the only Lions quarterbacks to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.

Roy Williams caught the first two TDs, a great one that withstood replay and another with 2 seconds left in the first half. Mike Williams caught a 21-yarder that put Detroit ahead for good and Mike Furrey punctuated his TD by firing the football into a plastic Cowboys logo behind the end zone, knocking it off the wall and putting a crack in it.

"I didn't think the star would come down," he said. "I didn't want to do that. But all the guys enjoyed it."

The Raiders did, too. Now Oakland gets the top overall pick and the Lions will go second.

Detroit has played better than its record indicates all season, getting blown out only twice. Just last week, they had a chance to beat NFC-leading Chicago but botched the final play.

This time, Detroit made the final play, stuffing Romo's fourth-down scramble. He also was stopped on a first-down run and forced to throw incompletions on second and third downs.

"It's important for us to go into the offseason like this," defensive tackle Cory Redding said. "The way we finished, it doesn't get any better than that."

Dallas led by one several times, including Newman atoning for his mistakes with the team's first punt return for a touchdown since 2001 and Terrell Owens catching a 56-yard pass for a 31-30 advantage with 8:09 left.

That play capped a 99-yard drive that was highlighted by Romo losing the ball in his own end zone, picking it up and throwing to Owens for 17 yards. It was the kind of good luck that was Romo's hallmark when he won five of his first six starts, and it seemed like the kind of play that could've turned things around for the Cowboys.

But the Lions answered with Mike Williams' TD and Romo fumbled on his very next snap. That led to Jason Hanson 's fourth field goal of the game and an eight-point Detroit lead with 2:58 to go.

When Romo was stopped shy of the goal line, the loudest cheer came from Philadelphia because it meant the Eagles clinched the division title.

"We talked about playing with emotion," said Newman, who last week accused teammates of doing more talking than playing. "I don't think it was there."

Notes: The Cowboys finished with more road wins (five) than home wins (four) for the first time since 1989, when they were 1-7 and 0-8. ... Roy Williams caught six passes for 104 yards for Detroit and Furrey had 11 for 102. Furrey caught 98 passes this season, the most ever by a non-rookie following a season when he had no catches. ... DeMarcus Ware had three sacks, giving him 11 1/2 for the season, the most ever by a Dallas linebacker and the most for anyone since Tony Tolbert had 12 in 1996. ... Owens caught six passes for 117 yards and Terry Glenn had six for 109. Both hit milestones: T.O. got his 800th career catch and T.G. went over 1,000 yards for a second straight season. ... Lions right tackle Jonathan Scott was strapped to a board and taken off via motorized cart during the fourth quarter. The team said it was a hip injury.

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