ARLINGTON, Texas — The 2013 Dallas Cowboys produced yet another .500 season, capped by yet another loss in the regular season finale.
But it was a wild, wacky journey to 8-8.
Playing without quarterback Tony Romo, Dallas backup Kyle Orton and the Cowboys had a shot in a winner-take-all matchup Sunday night at AT&T Stadium. But the Cowboys fell a 2-point conversion short in a 24-22 loss to Philadelphia.
For the first time since Jerry Jones purchased the team in 1989 — only the second time the past 50 years — the Cowboys will miss the playoffs four consecutive years.
“You have to just keep banging away,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “Unfortunately we've haven't taken that next step. That's something we have to look at, see how we can break through. We had a great chance tonight to win the NFC East. We were right there but didn't get it done.”
Jones has said he has no intention of firing Garrett but declined to address the subject after the game.
“About three or four weeks ago I said at that time I was with Jason, about his future, what he's going to be doing with us was good. This isn't the time,” Jones said. “I don't even like the way it feels or looks to speak to anything about our coaches.”
It's the third consecutive season Dallas has lost a win-or-go-home regular season finale. The Cowboys lost a similar game to the Redskins last season and the Giants in 2011.
“It is unbelievable, unthinkable really for me to be sitting here three years in a row and this game ended up putting us at .500 and this game eliminating us from going to the playoffs,” Jones said. “I thought some of the changes we had made this year would put us in better shape tonight.”
For Garrett and the Cowboys it was an “almost” season.
Similar to losses to the Broncos, Lions and Packers, the Cowboys suffered another what-might-have-been loss to fall to 2-12 in their last 14 regular-season finales.
This finale was similar to other tough losses this year — Matthew Stafford's quarterback leap in Detroit; the Cowboys squandering a 23-point halftime lead two weeks ago against Green Bay; and a 48-45 early season loss to Denver, the outcome decided by Romo's late-game interception.
“There are a lot of great stories from all walks of life of people that were close,” Garrett said. “You just have to keep fighting, keep battling. You have to be persistent and keep believing. Somehow, someway we're going to break through.”
Making his first start since he was claimed off waivers two years ago by Kansas City, Orton threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns filling in for Romo, Dallas' lightning rod quarterback who underwent back surgery two days after Christmas.
Orton also threw two interceptions, including a costly pick with 1:43 remaining that squashed the Cowboys playoff hopes.
“Obviously there were a couple of plays he'd love to have back, but you look at the whole body of work, he did a heck of a job,” Garrett said. “He had a great week of practice. He was confident. The guys responded to him, and he made some great decisions.”
Dallas never led Sunday night but stayed within striking range despite facing 10-0, 17-7 and 24-16 deficits.
Former OSU receiver Dez Bryant, who hauled in eight passes for 99 yards, broke free for a 32-yard touchdown catch with 3:50 remaining, but Orton's potential game-tying, 2-point conversion pass to Bryant was a little low.
“We certainly came back, and this team did fight back out there,” Jones said. “There's no such thing in this case at all of any consolation because we don't get to go on and we don't get to go on into the playoffs and we don't win the East. But this team played well in defeat.”
Dallas' injury-riddled defense allowed the third-most yards in NFL history in 2013 but played admirably in the finale. Dallas' defense sacked Philly quarterback Nick Foles five times and had a goal-line stand late in the third quarter.
“I know how hard everybody's fought, overcoming a lot of different obstacles, a lot of different adversities to overcome,” Garrett said. “I rarely tell them how proud I am of them. I'm just proud to be a part of how committed they are to each other.”