"Anytime you come in with the expectations and goals we set and don't accomplish them, number one, it's frustrating," Romo said before a long pause as he searched for the right words. "Right now it's just hard to think the season is over."
On the other side, one of Romo's boyhood idols did him in. Romo grew up in Burlington, Wis., while Brett Favre was leading the Green Bay Packers back to the top of the NFL. There was no cheering for him Sunday while Favre threw for 234 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Vikings to their first NFC title game since 2001.
Romo trudged back to the locker room with a dejected look on his face and another big-game failure on his resume.
"My assessment was that we had receivers open, we just couldn't get enough protection and Tony didn't have enough time to get it there," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.
It was such a stark contrast to a week ago, when Romo was the toast of NFL analysts for leading the team's December charge to the NFC East title. He threw for 311 yards and two scores against Philadelphia in the final week of the regular season to give the Cowboys the NFC East title, then followed that up with 244 yards and two TDs in a 34-14 win over the Eagles for his first career playoff win.
The performances -- and a full regular season in which he set career bests for yards (4,483), rating (97.6) and fewest interceptions (9) -- led many to believe that Romo had finally put all those struggles behind him.
"It looked like Tony was running for his life a lot," Phillips said.
It only got worse from there. The Cowboys managed just 130 yards of offense in the final three quarters and went 3 for 13 on third downs. Fittingly, Romo made two more big blunders that helped bury them.
He was sacked by Jared Allen in the second quarter and lost a fumble that led to a field goal and a 17-3 lead for Minnesota. With the score the same late in the third period, Romo threw a pass right to linebacker Ben Leber deep in Dallas territory.
Romo punched the air in frustration, and Minnesota added another field goal to make it a three-score game.
"They supposedly had a high-powered offense coming in, but they didn't get no points today," Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams said. "They're on the L side; we're on the W side."
It sure didn't help when left tackle Flozell Adams left the game in the first half with a leg injury. Backup Doug Free, who started seven games in the regular season at right tackle, tried to fill in.
Even before Adams went down, Romo was under frequent pressure.
"He was in a tough situation the entire game," said tight end Jason Witten, who had 10 catches for 98 yards. "Just didn't feel like he was in rhythm there, and they were doing a good job of keeping him out of rhythm. It's hard when they get a lead like that and with the crowd noise."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press