Pass rush kept Romo out of rhythm

MINNEAPOLIS -- Fairly or not, the blame for a playoff loss usually falls right on Tony Romo. So did the Minnesota Vikings' ferocious front four on a frequent basis Sunday afternoon.

Unlike in his previous two playoff losses, Romo didn't have a chance to win or lose this game on the Cowboys' last drive. Hope was gone long before then, in large part because of the Vikings' dominant pass rush.

The Cowboys quarterback never really had much of a chance in the 34-3 loss in the problematically loud Metrodome.

Minnesota's modern-day version of the Purple People Eaters sacked Romo six times and made him run for his life on many other occasions. The Vikings did it mostly with four-man rushes, meaning they could play whatever coverages they wanted to prevent the Cowboys from throwing downfield.

"He was in a tough situation the entire game," said tight end Jason Witten, who had 10 catches for 98 yards as Romo had to dink and dunk all day. "He wasn't in rhythm there, and they were doing a good job of keeping him out of rhythm."

The Cowboys knew the Vikings' front four -- which features a pair of All-Pro players in end Jared Allen and tackle Kevin Williams -- would be tough to block. That task became even tougher when left tackle Flozell Adams (strained right calf) went out for the game in the second quarter.

Add to that the impact of the roaring crowd and the Vikings jumping out to a two-score lead in the first half, and it wasn't pretty. With no reason to fear the Dallas running game, the Vikings' pass rushers simply pinned their ears back and made Romo's No. 9 their target.

"Once that happens," Romo said, wincing and whistling, "they tee off."

Romo Bad on 3rd, 4th Downs

Tony Romo was harassed by Vikings defenders all afternoon and couldn't convert when it counted.

From an offensive perspective, this game looked a lot like the second half of the Cowboys' loss to the New York Giants in the 2007 divisional round. Plain and simple, the offensive line got whipped by arguably the league's best front four.

Allen did a fair amount of damage, sacking Romo to force one of the quarterback's three turnovers. But it was the other end, Ray Edwards, who really wreaked havoc.
Right tackle Marc Colombo -- who returned for the playoffs after missing the last seven regular-season games while recovering from ankle surgery and a broken fibula -- was overmatched by Edwards. The most anonymous member of Minnesota's defensive line managed to rack up three sacks, four tackles for losses, six hurries and a forced fumble despite spending the fourth quarter on the sideline after suffering a bruised knee.

"Ray kicked it off," Allen said, "and we all just followed."

As a result, Romo never got rolling. Even on the rare occasions when he did have time in the pocket, he didn't appear comfortable, as if he expected pressure.

Romo would have had to play a remarkable game to outduel his boyhood idol, Brett Favre. But in a game featuring two classic gunslingers, one never got to reach his holster.

The Cowboys didn't have a play of 20-plus yards until garbage time. Romo finished with 198 yards on 22-of-35 passing with an inexcusable interception that essentially gave the Vikings a field goal. Romo's three turnovers matched his total from the previous eight games.

"We knew that was going to be a great challenge, particularly in this building, and we knew Tony was going to have to manage those situations," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. "Find some completions, get the ball out quickly and sustain drives with a lot of little plays, as opposed to making some big plays down the field."

Romo proved in the first round that he's good enough to win in the playoffs. He just needs some help from his big friends, who let him down in the divisional round.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.