Dallas Cowboys: The 5 Worst Playoff Defeats for America's Team

Stephen UrbaniakCorrespondent IMay 25, 2011

Dallas Cowboys: The 5 Worst Playoff Defeats for America's Team

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    Cowboys QB #9 Tony Romo dejectedly leaves the 2010 NFC Divisional
    Cowboys QB #9 Tony Romo dejectedly leaves the 2010 NFC DivisionalChris McGrath/Getty Images

    When one thinks of success in the NFL, it is measured by how many championships you win.  When a team hoists the Lombardi Trophy at the conclusion of the Super Bowl, they have made the difficult ascension to the top of the mountain and have earned the right to call themselves champions. 

    The Dallas Cowboys have been in the league since 1960. They are the only team to have 20-plus winning seasons and only missing the playoffs twice from 1966-1985.  They have been to a NFL-record 14 NFC Championship games, winning eight of those contests, thus being the NFC's representative in the Super Bowl in 1971, 1972, 1976, 1978, 1993, 1994 and 1996. 

    The Cowboys had been tabbed America's Team in 1978 when NFL Films was putting together their season highlight reel.  The numbers don't lie.  The Cowboys have won five Super Bowl championships, tied for second all time with the San Francisco 49ers. 

    The Cowboys were the most dominant team in the league from 1992-1995, posting 60 wins in the regular season and 11 wins in the playoffs, with an average margin of victory of 18 points per game.  The Cowboys were one game shy of going to three straight Super Bowls, as they were outlasted by the 49ers in the 1995 NFC Championship game by a score of 38-28.

    With all that success comes ample opportunities for failure.  The Cowboys, even with all of their successes have had their share of failure. 

    Here are five of the Cowboys' worst playoff defeats in team history:

    Thanks to Bleacher Report for the picture above.

1982 NFC Championship: "The Catch"

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    #87 Dwight Clark making the catch over #24 Everson Walls
    #87 Dwight Clark making the catch over #24 Everson Walls

    In this game, the Cowboys were up 27-21 with 58 ticks on the clock.  Joe Montana and the 49ers offense were facing a 3rd-and-3 at the Cowboys' 6-yard line. 

    The play, which is now known in history as Red Right Tight-Sprint Right Option called for both Freddie Solomon and Dwight Clark to line up on the right.

    Montana was to roll to his right and hit Solomon. Clark's pattern called for him to cut left across the end zone, stop and immediately reverse his path to the right. If Solomon were covered, Clark was Montana's only other option. Due to the withering pressure by the Cowboys' defensive line, Montana's pass was high.  Clark was in the right place at the right time to make his memorable grab in perfect coverage by Walls.

    With the go-ahead touchdown, it put the home team up 28-27 and ensured the birth of the 49ers' 1980s dynasty, and for Dallas, it was the end of an era of dominance.  The Cowboys would close the decade with consecutive losing seasons and not be relevant again for 10 years.

    Thanks to BaltimoreOrgan.com and Joe Velisek for the photo. 

1996 NFC Divisional Playoffs: How the Mighty Fell and Beginning of the End

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    #8 Troy Aikman in 1996 Divisional Playoffs against Carolina
    #8 Troy Aikman in 1996 Divisional Playoffs against Carolina

    Expectations were high in 1996 as the Cowboys were coming off their third Super Bowl title in four years. 

    The downward turn began when Jay Novacek was lost for the season due to injury, and Michael Irvin was suspended for the first five games of the season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.  Emmitt Smith was also lost during a loss in Chicago to add to the misfortune.

    The Cowboys rebounded and won the NFC East and being unable to secure a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs, they went and destroyed the Minnesota Vikings 40-15 behind Smith's 116 yards and two touchdowns and safety George Teague's 29-yard interception returned for a touchdown.  This would be the team's final taste of postseason success until the 2009 season.

    The very next week in the divisional round, the upstart (and need I remind everyone expansion) Carolina Panthers took advantage of three Cowboys' turnovers and an injury to Irvin enroute to upending the Pokes by a final count of 26-17.

    This game was the beginning of the end of the Cowboys' run of the 1990s.  In 1997, the wheels fell off as they would go 6-10, and in 1998, they suffered an embarrassing 20-7 playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals and had completely flatlined by the early 2000s.

    Thanks to DallasCowboys.com and their 50-year recap for the picture above.

1998 NFC Wild Card: Snake-Bitten Cowboys Fall to Plummer, Cardinals

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    Jake "The Snake" Plummer, led the Cardinals to an unlikely victory over the remnants of the Cowboys 90's dynasty.
    Jake "The Snake" Plummer, led the Cardinals to an unlikely victory over the remnants of the Cowboys 90's dynasty.

    The 90s were a period of dominance for the Cowboys.  In the close of the decade, Father Time had caught up with America's Team.

    Significant pieces of the dynasty that won three Super Bowls in four years were gone in free agency.  Injuries had forced some key players to miss time.  The Cowboys may have been a wounded animal, but they were still competitive as they still had Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin.  And we all know wounded animals are still dangerous.

    The Cowboys had finished better in 1998 then in the previous year going 6-10, with the highlight being they went 8-0 in the NFC East and had clinched the division for the sixth time in seven years.  The Cowboys had defeated the Cardinals twice in the regular season, but like the 2007 loss to the Giants, the 'Boys were unable to put them away for a third time.

    Led by Jake "The Snake" Plummer, the opportunistic Cardinals took advantage of every opportunity and put away the shell-shocked Cowboys 20-7.  After this loss, the Cowboys would lose Michael Irvin in 1999, and Troy Aikman in 2000, and thus put the nail in the coffin of the dynasty of America's Team.

    Thanks to Bleacher Report and Scott Z Brady for the photo.

2006 NFC Wild Card: The Fumble Seen 'Round the World

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    #9 Tony Romo taking fumbled FG snap in loss vs. Seattle
    #9 Tony Romo taking fumbled FG snap in loss vs. SeattleJed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Above is a scene forever ingrained into the minds of Cowboys faithful: Tony Romo fumbling a snap for a 19-yard field goal that would've sent the Cowboys to the next round of the playoffs.

    In this game, the Cowboys were down 21-20 and had driven to inside the Seahawks' 20-yard line.  Then-coach Bill Parcells elected to go with a chip shot 19-yard field goal to all but ice the game for the 'Boys in blue and silver.

    All did NOT go according to plan. 

    Martin Gramatica, one of the more reliable kickers in the league lined up for an "Automatica."  Only, something went wrong.  Tony fumbled the ensuing snap, and as pictured above, had tried to run it in for the game-winning score.  The game was saved for Seattle as Romo was tackled about a yard shy of the goaline by CB Jordan Babineaux.

    This game proved to be the final straw in Bill Parcells' time in Dallas as he resigned shortly after the season after four years in Valley Ranch.

    Thanks to Bleacher Report for the picture above.

2007 NFC Divisional Playoffs: CaboGate and Romo's Late INT Cost Cowboys

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    #83 Terry Glenn and #25 R.W McQuarters in the 2007 NFC Divisional Playoffs
    #83 Terry Glenn and #25 R.W McQuarters in the 2007 NFC Divisional Playoffs

    In this game, the Cowboys were the top seed in the NFC playoffs and had matched the franchise record for most wins in a season by going 13-3.

    Their opponent and NFC East rival had already dropped two contests to the 'Boys by scores of 45-35 and 31-20.  Most experts were picking Dallas to win this game and make their 15th appearance and first since 1995 in the NFC Championship game against the second-seeded Green Bay Packers.

    During the team's bye week, Romo and other players had taken a vacation to Cabo San Lucas with the quarterback's then-girlfriend Jessica Simpson.  Critics had said that the trip was a distraction when the team should've been practicing.  No worries for a team that started 5-0 and finished the season 8-3 right?

    The Giants had other ideas.

    After giving up two critical touchdowns to the Eli Manning-led Giants offense, the Cowboys had gotten the ball back and were looking to lock up a chance to beat the Giants for a third time and secure their chance at another NFC Championship trophy.  Things didn't go as planned.

    After a series of miscues, the Cowboys were at the visitor's 22-yard line with eight seconds left in the game.  Tony Romo stepped to the line and a deep crossing route was called with Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn being the primary and secondary receivers. 

    Tony took the snap and fired a pass in the direction of Glenn, but the receiver was double covered by R.W. McQuarters and Gibril Wilson, and the ball was intercepted  by McQuarters, thus ending any Cowboys comeback and wasting a 13-3 season.  Tony Romo would be the target of much criticism as this followed his much famous gaffe in the 2006 Wild Card loss to the Seahawks.

    Thanks to Bleacher Report and Richard Resch for the photo above. 

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