Cowboys facing “playoffs-or-bust” situation again

The 2013 National Football League season has sped by just like the Christmas shopping time did as the 17th and final week takes place this weekend.The parity that the league strives for each season appears to have come to fruition as only the American Football Conference has all of its division champions crowned going into this weekend’s final regular season action. Even one of the wild cards (Kansas City) has already been determined in the AFC.But the National Football Conference is still in a turmoil with all of the division winners still a mystery that will be solved by midnight Sunday after our Dallas Cowboys host the Philadelphia Eagles in the league’s featured contest Sunday Night on NBC.

The NFC East Division, as well as the other three divisions, is still up for grabs, along with the wild cards. Only the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks are assured of making the playoffs either as the division champion or a wild card.

But in the NFC East, which presently is led by the Philadelphia Eagles with a 9-6 record, Sunday night’s premier battle at Jerry Jones AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the status of the game is that the winner is the division champion and the loser watches the playoffs on television.

The Cowboys nearly blew their slim playoff hopes Sunday with another second-half meltdown against the lowly Washington Redskins at Fed-Ex Field in Landover, Md. (their third in as many weeks) after Washington took advantage of two turnovers and a costly penalty and scored 17 unanswered points, putting the Pokes behind 23-14 early in the fourth period.

But Cowboys veteran quarterback Tony Romo wasn’t about to watch his team’s playoff hopes end as he connected with wide receiver Cole Beasley for 20 yards on a fourth-and-six situation with six minutes left in the game to set up Dan Bailey’s field goal, reducing the deficit to 23-17. As the Cowboys were driving for the winning touchdown, running back DeMarco Murray tried to reverse his course from the one-yard line and lost nine yards on a third-and-goal situation with time running out. But Murray redeemed himself on the next play on a fourth-and-goal situation as Romo was scrambling around avoiding Redskins tacklers and caught the desperation pass near the pylon and fell into the end zone with 1:08 left in the game. Bailey’s extra point put the Cowboys ahead 24-23 which was the final score.The victory gave the Cowboys an 8-7 record and 5-0 in the NFC East setting up Sunday’s do-or-die game with the surging Eagles who lambasted the Chicago Bears 54-11 Sunday night.What’s really amazing about Romo’s winning touchdown toss is that he did all of that elusive escaping from the grasps of the would-be Redskins sack-artists with an ailing back.  An MRI Monday determined he had a herniated disk and is out for the season. So now the job of getting the Dallas Cowboys to the playoffs falls on the shoulders of veteran back-up quarterback Kyle Orton, who hasn’t taken many snaps this season.

The Cowboys will have to sign a quarterback to back-up Orton, because he and Romo are the only quarterbacks on the Cowboys’ 53-man roster.Dallas doesn’t have a very good history in these playoffs-or-bust games on the road, losing to the New York Giants in 2011 and Washington last season. The Cowboys were an early 2½-point favorite over the Eagles Sunday night before Romo’s injury was diagnosed. Now there is no line on the game. A win would end a playoff victory drought and bring the first NFC East title since 2009.

“The 2011 and 2012 finals were on the road, but this time we get to sleep in our own beds and play at our house,” defensive tackle Jason Hatcher told the San Antonio Express after the game. “It kind of gives us an advantage, but we’ve got to take it.”But history is not on the Cowboys’ side. They are an NFL-worst 2-11 in Week 17 since the 2000 season and Romo is 1-6 in win-or go-home games. So owner Jerry Jones’ dream of getting to the Super Bowl is still faintly alive—at least for a couple more days.The Seattle Seahawks lost their opportunity to clinch the NFC West Division and home-field advantage for the entire playoffs by losing their first home game in two years as Arizona came from behind to win 20-13 Sunday. But the Seahawks (12-3) can clinch with a win or tie Sunday at home against the St. Louis Rams.The Carolina Panthers earned their first playoff berth since 2008 when quarterback Cam Newton tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Domenik Hixon with 23 seconds left to give the Panthers a 17-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints. Carolina (11-4) can clinch a first-round bye with a win or tie at Atlanta Sunday. Dallas, Philadelphia, Chicago and Green Bay can clinch division titles with wins Sunday while Arizona is still alive for a wild card spot in the NFC.

In the AFC Denver (12-3) can clinch the home-field advantage throughout the entire playoffs with a win or tie or a New England (11-4) loss or tie. New England can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a Cincinnati win and a Denver loss.Cincinnati (10-5) can clinch a first round bye with a win over Baltimore Sunday and a New England loss to Buffalo. Miami (8-7) can clinch a playoff berth with a win Sunday against the New York Jets and a Baltimore loss.

Indianapolis (10-5) can clinch a first-round bye with a win over Jacksonville and a New England loss plus a Cincinnati loss or a tie.

If it sounds confusing, it will be much clearer Monday morning.

KWICKIES…Detroit Lions’ head coach Jim Schwartz became angry and frustrated at the home fans at Ford Field Sunday who booed him for letting the clock run down in regulation play and forcing an overtime period against the Giants instead of trying to move the football into field goal range in the final 25 seconds with two time outs. He turned and yelled in the direction of the crowd twice and instructed the team to run a dive play to kill the clock. They really booed when New York won 23-20 in overtime to eliminate Detroit from playoff contention. Schwartz may not be Detroit’s head coach by the time this Korner hits the streets.

Texas A&M freshman linebacker Darian Claiborne, who led the team with 89 tackles in the regular season, has been suspended from the team after being arrested Sunday for possession of drugs. The former Port Allen (La.) star started the last nine games for the Aggies. He will be replaced by another true freshman Jordan Mastrogiovanni.

I have to agree with the recent local article pointing out the fact that the Lamar basketball program neglects to recruit any local talent. In fact, there only is one player out of the 13 on the squad that even hails from the Lone Star State. It seems like if Head Coach Pat Knight is going to lose nine out of 10 games so far this season, he couldn’t do any worse with some prospects from Southeast Texas.

JUST BETWEEN US…At first glance it appears the Denver Broncos blew out our Houston Texans Sunday at Reliant Park like they were supposed to. However, if one watched the game, it would be discovered the Texans played Denver on equal terms for three quarters until the Broncos used some different pass patterns and scored three fourth-period touchdowns to put the game out of reach. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning broke Drew Brees’ 2007 NFL record with 51 touchdown passes for a season while Texans’ premiere receiver Andre Johnson tied Wes Welker’s NFL record with his fifth 100-catch season. And on a sour note, the Houston Texans set a franchise record with their 13th consecutive loss in a season and could set an NFL record Sunday by becoming the first team in history to win its first two games and finish 2-14.