In a bid to get back to the playoffs, the Cowboys shook up their roster in 2006. Terrell Owens — once Public Enemy No. 1 after his stints in San Francisco and Philadelphia – was signed in free agency. To shore up the kicking game, Peyton Manning's “idiot kicker”, Mike Vanderjagt, was also signed. But Vanderjagt would only play 10 games in Dallas and would be gone after Week 11. Dallas lost a lot in free agency as well.
Dan Campbell, Keyshawn Johnson, Larry Allen, and La'Roi Glover all departed for other teams. Dat Nguyen was lost to a career-ending injury, adding to Dallas' roster woes. Draft Disaster Bill Parcells had his worst draft with Dallas in 2006. His downfall was in letting sentiment overrule common sense. In the first round Dallas took linebacker Bobby Carpenter.
His father had played for Parcells in New York. But needing another tight end for the new two-tight end sets Dallas wanted to run – and with Campbell gone – Dallas passed on UCLA tight end Marcedes Lewis. With Lewis being taken by the Jaguars later in the first round, Parcells used his second round pick on tight end Anthony Fasano. The reasoning was Fasano reminded Parcells of former Giants' tight end Mark Bavaro.
Fasano would only play in Dallas for two years. Carpenter would last four years but only start in three games. Three players Dallas missed on drafting in the second round that were available? Tackle Andrew Whitworth, defensive back Devin Hester and running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Dallas did land a solid pick in the third round with defensive end Jason Hatcher.
And they landed a diamond in the rough in signing undrafted free agent Miles Austin. Bledsoe's Last Hurrah Drew Bledsoe started as the Cowboys' starting quarterback with Tony Romo as his back up. He would get off to a rocky start with three interceptions in a 24-17 loss at Jacksonville. Bledsoe would throw two touchdowns in each of the next two games – against just one lone interception – in wins over the Redskins (27-10) and Titans (45-14). Romo would make his NFL debut in the Tennessee victory, taking the final three snaps and kneeling to run out the clock. Bledsoe threw three more interceptions in a 38-24 loss at the Eagles then rebounded with two touchdowns in a 34-6 win over the Texans. In what would be his final start – and final game seeing action – for the Cowboys, Bledsoe started out 7-of-12 for 111 yards and one interceptions at home against the Giants. Down 12-7 at half, Parcells had seen enough and put Romo in to start the second half of the game. The Romo Era Starts Rough Romo's first official pass attempt in the NFL was one he'd like to have back.
Intended for Fasano it was picked off by Antonio Pierce, setting up another Giants' touchdown three plays later. Romo would throw two more interceptions, one returned 96 yards by Kevin Dockery, but finished 14-of-25 for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Romo's first touchdown pass went to Owens. His second was a 53-yarder to Patrick Crayton.
It was enough to convince Parcells to name Romo the starter. Romo would lead Dallas to a 35-14 win at Carolina and had Dallas up 19-12 over the Redskins before falling 22-19. In both games Romo was 24-for-36 passing and only had one interception. Over the next four games he would throw seven touchdowns against three interceptions as the Cowboys would win all four games to get to 8-4. Dallas defeated the Cardinals (27-10) and the Colts (21-14).
Then, Romo tied Troy Aikman for most touchdowns thrown in a single game at five in a 38-10 win over Tampa Bay. Romo would struggle against the Giants, throwing two interceptions. Martin Gramatica, brought in to replace Vanderjagt, hit his third field goal with one second left to give Dallas a 23-20 victory in New York. Cowboys Survive Late Collapse The Cowboys would fall to the Saints, coached by their former assistant head coach Sean Payton, 42-17. Letting Payton go to New Orleans instead of keeping his as Parcells' successor would haunt Dallas for years. The Cowboys downed the Falcons 38-28 in Atlanta, but then loss their last two games at home to the Eagles (23-7) and Lions (39-31). The Lions loss was particularly costly as Detroit was 2-13 coming into the game.
A win would have given Dallas the NFC East instead of settling for a wild card berth. Instead of playing at Seattle they would have hosted the Giants in the playoffs. But, at least they were back in the postseason for the first time since 2003. A Wild, Wild Card Game The Cowboys looked to be in great shape in the wild card game in Seattle.
A 93-yard kickoff return by Austin had helped propel the Cowboys to a 20-13 lead with just under seven minutes left in the game. Then it all came unglued. After the defense had stopped the Seahawks at the Cowboys' two, Romo connected on a short pass to Terry Glenn. Glenn fumbled and originally Seattle was credited with a recovery for a game-tying touchdown.
The ruling was overturned to a safety. Dallas had to punt the ball back to Seattle, and Matt Hasselback hit Jeremy Stevens for a 37-yard touchdown. After a failed two-point try, the Seahawks led 21-20 with 4:31 left. Romo drove the Cowboys to the Seattle two, forcing the Seahawks to burn all three timeouts. With 1:19 remaining, Dallas lined up for what would be the go-ahead field goal from point blank range. What Was On That Ball? Rumor has it that astronauts in orbit saw the lights reflecting off the football brought in for the attempt.
Why the long-snapper didn't call time out or ask for a different ball is unknown. But the ball was snapped and Romo couldn't handle it. He tried in vain to scramble for the end zone to no avail. Seattle stopped him short, ran the clock down and punted the ball back to Dallas at midfield with just two seconds left. After the earlier malfunction, no thought was given to a 68-yard field goal try and Romo's final heave into the end zone fell incomplete. The Cowboys' season was over.
Conspiracy theories on that extra-shiny football were born and the NFL would change the rules regarding balls used for kicks before the next season. We're not saying the heavy use of Crisco might have been involved that night. We're just saying… Parcells Era Ends The disappointing loss marked the end of Parcells' time as head coach.
His record over four years was just 34-30 and 0-2 in the playoffs. The sixth head coach in team history had managed to change the culture in Dallas. His successor would benefit from that. But that successor could have – even should have – been Sean Payton. Payton would go on to win a Super Bowl in New Orleans. Had he replaced Parcells in 2007, Cowboys' history would have been very much different indeed.