SEATTLE -- This wasn't what Jerry Jones had in mind when he hired Bill Parcells and Terrell Owens to take the Cowboys to a championship. Instead, the Cowboys' owner watched a gut-wrenching 21-20 loss to the Seahawks on Saturday night that left his quarterback, Tony Romo, in tears and his locker room not knowing if it's about to undergo a coaching change.
Romo simply dropped the game-winning field goal snap with 1:19 left in the fourth quarter. He was the only remaining starting quarterback still holding. Jake Plummer was the only other one this season. It's probably a mistake for Parcells to still use a young, struggling quarterback as a holder. Romo picked up the loose ball and ran it to the Seahawks' 2 but was tackled short of the first down. Shaun Alexander then ripped off a 20-yard run to seal Seattle's win.
This ending will go down as one of the more memorable in playoff history, but more for the negative than the positive. Romo's fumbled snap ranks with Jackie Smith's dropped catch in the end zone that cost the Cowboys a Super Bowl. It ranks with Earnest Byner's fumble that killed Marty Schottenheimer's chance with the Cleveland Browns of beating John Elway's Broncos. Unlike the Steelers Immaculate Reception, Dwight Clark's 49er Catch and Ben Roethlisberger's Immaculate Redemption last year when someone tackled Colts cornerback Nick Harper, the Romo No-No leaves a scar that might take this franchise time to heal.
"You know you are going to go through your ups and downs in this game, for sure," said Romo, who fought back tears throughout his post-game news conference. "Obviously that has happened to us this year. I have never experienced this, so I don't know how long something like this will sit with me."
Romo was in tears at his locker after the game. Teammates consoled their Pro Bowl quarterback. Terrell Owens was particularly passionate. He told Romo to hold his head up, but it was hard for everybody in Cowboys colors. Romo said never felt this low.
"I feel like him," Owens said. "I feel like crying."
Owens recalled his playoff game against the Packers when he dropped about four passes as a 49er. But Owens was able to finish with a game-winning touchdown pass on a skinny post. Romo didn't get a chance to finish. The sight of Romo at the Seahawks' 2 holding his two hands in front of his face mask in shock captured the bizarre ending to a bizarre Cowboys season.
Emotionally, Romo was wrecked. So was a Cowboys season in which the 3-4 defense had to switch to a few 4-3 schemes to pressure quarterbacks in the final two games and made uncharacteristic playoff blunders normally reserved for an expansion team.
"You know you've got to finish the game," Parcells said. "We just didn't do that."
Unlike his Giants team of Super Bowl lore, Parcells' Cowboys weren't good finishers. They made two trips to the playoffs and lost two games. Saturday night's disaster, though, was of epic proportion.
Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens once again burned Cowboys safeties for 15- and 37-yard touchdowns. During the regular season, Cowboys safeties allowed 13 touchdown passes. Parcells never fixed that problem and it cost him in the playoffs.
Cornerback Terence Newman's interference penalty in the end zone on Seahawks wide receiver Nate Burleson gave the Seahawks, then trailing 20-13 in the fourth quarter, a first down at the Cowboys' 1. The Cowboys' defense stopped the Seahawks on four downs, but the usually dependable Terry Glenn had the ball stripped from his hands by Seahawks rookie cornerback Kelly Jennings. The play went for a safety that cut the lead to 20-15 and set the stage for Stevens' game-winning 37-yard touchdown pass.
"Well, when I caught the ball, I went to make a move, and I think I kind of slipped a little bit," Glenn said. "Once I was gathering my footing back, I think Jennings made a great play and knocked the ball out of my hands. Before you know it, I was scrambling around, looking around. It happened so fast. It was a good play by them and a bad play by me."
The Parcells teams of old didn't make those bad plays. They played hard and finished hard. The Cowboys finished this season with four losses in their final five games. Think of the impact. Romo's an emotional wreck. The defense isn't sure whether it should be a 3-4 or a 4-3. Parcells might step down as coach.
"I haven't thought about it right now," Parcells said of his future. "I'm going to think about it and we'll see."
But the main story was Romo. Kicker Martin Gramatica calls him an awesome holder. Romo could never remember botching a snap. This time he whiffed. Once Romo took over the starting job, Parcells told him he didn't have to win the game by himself.
By whiffing on the snap, he lost it for the Cowboys. Jones and the Cowboys tried to console him. It didn't work.
"I don't take much consolation right now," Romo said. "I take responsibility for messing up at the end there, and it's my fault. I cost the Dallas Cowboys a playoff win. It is going to sit with me a long time."
This wasn't what Jerry Jones had in mind.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.