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Tony Romo must shoulder blame

LANDOVER, Md. -- Tony Romo trudged off FedEx Field Sunday night having failed yet again when it mattered most.

Sadly, it's an all too familiar sight in regular-season finales.

For those of you who take a sadistic thrill in watching Romo and owner Jerry Jones fail to live up to this once-proud franchise's legacy, the Cowboys are 0-3 in win-and-get-in games since 2008.

So the Cowboys will miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, which is about as embarrassing as it gets for a franchise that has won five Lombardi Trophies.

Washington 28, Dallas 18.

In the past five seasons, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins have beaten the Cowboys in the final game of the season with a playoff berth at stake.

Blame this one on Romo.

Again.

Romo, the epitome of efficiency the past seven games with 17 touchdown passes and three interceptions, looked skittish early and ultimately turned in a shoddy performance in a game the Cowboys needed him to be a star.

He finished 20-of-37 for 218 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Romo's passer rating of 55.9 was his worst of the season.

Romo threw interceptions on the Cowboys' first two drives, but it was his third interception that killed the season.

Somehow, the Cowboys had positioned themselves to make yet another stirring fourth-quarter comeback. A third-down sack by DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer forced a Washington punt and gave the Cowboys the ball at their own 15 with 3:35 remaining.

They had three timeouts and more than enough time for a game-winning touchdown drive. On the Cowboys' sideline, the players and coaches believed they would win.

It was their destiny.

Romo I feel as though I let our team down.

-- Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo

After all, they had come from behind to win five games in the fourth quarter this season, and Romo had completed nearly 67 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in the final frame in 2012. Only Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers had a better fourth-quarter passer rating than Romo's 104.0.

On first down, Romo completed a 15-yard pass to Jason Witten. Then disaster struck.

Washington, blitzing as it had much of the game, had yet another defender sprint untouched through the middle of the Cowboys' offensive line. Romo, throwing off his back foot, lofted the ball into the flat toward DeMarco Murray.

Outside linebacker Rob Jackson, who had seen Murray sneak into the flat and stopped his rush, made a leaping interception.

"I feel as though I let our team down." Romo said after the game.

Well, he'll have all offseason to ponder his mistake, while the Cowboys decide whether he remains their best option at quarterback.

Ultimately, Jerry and Garrett will decide, as they should, that Romo is a quality quarterback who can win playoff games for the Cowboys.

No doubt.

You see the talent -- even if you don't want to admit it right now -- and he has the best collection of offensive talent around him that he's ever had with Witten, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, DeMarco Murray and emerging receiver Dwayne Harris.

Of course, it won't matter if Jerry and Garrett don't fix the Cowboys' raggedy offensive line.

Still, the 32-year-old Romo, whose contract expires after the 2013 season, must understand he's not going to get a sniff of Drew Brees money -- five years, $100 million with $60 million guaranteed. And if he wants more than Matt Schaub money (four years, $62 million, $24.7 million guaranteed), then the Cowboys should be prepared to franchise him.

He has not yet earned a mega-payday.

Romo is 17-21 as a starter since 2010, and he played poorly in the first half of the season when the Cowboys started 3-5. In his six full seasons as a starter, the Cowboys have one playoff win. It's not all his fault, but that ain't close to being good enough. Add his record in these critical games and even Romo shouldn't have a problem admitting he's in the second tier of quarterbacks until he proves otherwise.

He had a chance to show it against Washington, but he didn't.

Sure it's a team game, but the Cowboys knew their defense was going to struggle against Washington's attack because injuries had ravaged defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's unit. They entered Sunday's game with four starters, not including slot cornerback Orlando Scandrick, on injured reserve. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff played only five games because of a variety of injuries, and Ware played only situationally Sunday because of elbow and shoulder injuries that will require surgery after the season.

Romo and the offense needed to carry the team.

They failed, totaling just 296 yards. This from an offense that had gained more than 400 yards eight times this season.

The defense limited Washington to 14 points through three quarters. They gave Romo and the offense seven possessions to seize control of the game -- and they couldn't do it.

"Your legacy will be written when you're done playing the game," Romo said. "When it's over with, you'll look back and talk about those things. It's disappointing not being able to get over that hump."

Time remains for Romo to change the narrative of his career, but he must hurry. He's much closer to the end of his career than the beginning.