- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- This December loss was different. Tony Romo doesn't deserve a large part of the blame.
Whether Romo wants to acknowledge it or not, his past December performances have left a lot to be desired. He arrived at Giants Stadium with a 5-8 record and a 71.7 passer rating -- compared to 35-15 and 94.6 overall -- in the cruelest month for the Dallas Cowboys.
Romo improved his passer rating Sunday. His record, however, is worse after a 31-24 loss to the New York Giants.
The Giants kept their NFC East title hopes alive despite a terrific performance by Romo, who established career highs for completions (41), attempts (55) and yards (392). Romo's three-touchdown, no-turnover performance gave the Cowboys a chance to win despite getting outplayed by the Giants in every other facet of the game.
"I thought he played really as well as you need to play to win," Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said. "That's very frustrating."
Romo wouldn't phrase it this way, but his teammates let him down.
The running game never got going, with Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice averaging only 2 yards per carry. That forced Romo to face a New York defense that knew the Cowboys would be one-dimensional. Barber's fumble just before the half put the Giants in position to take the lead.
The defense fell apart in the final four minutes of the first half, allowing the Giants to score twice and turn a 10-0 deficit into a four-point lead. The Cowboys also allowed an inexcusable 74-yard touchdown catch and run by Giants running back Brandon Jacobs on a checkdown throw, which gave the Giants the lead for good late in the third quarter.
The special teams also played a significant role in setting a terrible tone for December. Nick Folk's miss on a 42-yard field goal attempt -- holder Mat McBriar accepted the blame -- was a punch to the gut after a nice drive early in the fourth quarter. The blow that put the Cowboys down for the count was a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown minutes later by New York's Domenik Hixon, who ran through four arm tackles before breaking free down the sideline.
The only thing the Cowboys did well consistently at the Meadowlands was throw the ball.
Although Romo was awful in the September loss to the Giants, the success via the air wasn't a surprise to the Cowboys. They figured the Giants would load up against the run after getting gashed for 251 yards at Cowboys Stadium. And the New York secondary was missing its two starting safeties from that game, with Kenny Phillips out for the season with a knee injury and Michael Johnson sidelined Sunday with a sore groin.
Romo spread the ball around beautifully to his top three weapons. Tight end Jason Witten caught 14 passes for a career-high 156 yards. Miles Austin had his second consecutive triple-digit day, catching 10 passes for 104 yards and a late score. Roy Williams continued to emerge as a red zone weapon, scoring on two of his six catches.
"We felt like there were some holes there in the secondary that we could really take advantage of, especially with Johnson being out," Witten said. "They've had a lot of change-up, and it was there. We felt like Tony did a good job, the line was protecting, we had a lot of different options."
Romo wasn't perfect. He had one glaring mistake: an overthrow of a wide-open Williams on what would have been an easy touchdown with four minutes remaining. Romo rushed the throw and knew as soon as it left his hand that he wanted it back.
When the Cowboys failed to score on that possession, their comeback hopes went from unlikely to hoping for a miracle.
"You always think you can do better," Romo said. "There's always stuff that you look at and you want back. That's the only way for the team to continue to improve, is for everybody to look at themselves and figure out what they can do extra or better to help this team win next week."
The Cowboys can't ask much more from Romo, which makes their latest December failure all the more disappointing.
Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at email@example.com