JAIME ARON Associated Press SEATTLE -
If Bill Parcells needs a reason to come back in 2007, he has plenty to choose from. Can he really leave the Dallas Cowboys after getting this close to a playoff breakthrough? Does he really want to end his career with the final memory being the botched hold of a short field goal?
And would he really trust someone else to help his new quarterback get over the most excruciating ending to a Cowboys playoff game since Dwight Clark make "The Catch" in 1981?
Parcells was in no mood to discuss his future following a 21-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in a wild-card game Saturday night. Losing was tough enough, but the way it happened - with Tony Romo bobbling a snap, preventing Martin Gramatica from attempting the winning kick, then getting tackled just shy of both a first down and the goal line - has to rank among the toughest in his career.
"You got to finish the games," he said. "We just didn't do it."
The Cowboys remain without a postseason win since 1996, extending the longest drought in team history. Parcells hasn't won a playoff game since 1998; he's lost his last three (one with the Jets in '98, two with Dallas) after never even having back-to-back postseason losses.
His career record in Dallas is 34-32, but he's certainly made the franchise better, which was his initial promise when Jerry Jones lured him out of retirement in 2003.
Still, without a playoff win, he hasn't truly restored glory to this once-proud franchise.
"I know we have a better team, competitively, than what we had in the past," he said. "I know that."
The 65-year-old Parcells has a year left on his contract. Jones has made it clear he wants Parcells to return.
"I'm going to take a look at things," Parcells said. "Take a look at what we need to do and see where we go."
One thing that is decided: Romo will be the starting quarterback in 2007. Parcells and Jones both said so.
"I'm real positive about where we are at quarterback," Jones said. "Understanding how the NFL is today, then my sense is that we have an excellent opportunity to be a contender next year."
Jones was among those trying to console Romo in the locker room. Everyone seemed to pass along the same two thoughts: Dallas wouldn't have even been in the playoffs without him; and, as bad as it feels now, "living through highs and lows, that does and can make you better," Jones said.
Encouraging words can only help Romo so much. It's going to take time to get over this blunder.
After he was tackled from behind, Romo sat on the turf, legs extended and head down. He could hardly look up while on the sideline, then after a last-chance heave fell incomplete in the end zone, his helmet drooped again as he walked off the field.
Even in the refuge of the locker room, Romo was still too embarrassed to look up. For all the great plays he'd made this season, the backup-turned-Pro Bowl quarterback couldn't get over failing to make the simplest play of all.
"I don't know if I have ever felt this low at any point," a choked-up Romo said after staring blankly into his locker.
Romo has been the holder since 2004, long before Parcells ever trusted him to throw a pass. Parcells said he doesn't even remember a botched snap in practice.
Perhaps the weirdest postscript: as the starting quarterback going into training camp, Romo likely won't be holding again next year. Thus, his first flub may have come on his last try.
"You know, you are going to go through your ups and downs in this game, for sure. Obviously that has happened to us this year," said Romo, who started 5-1 but finished 1-4.
"I am usually a guy who challenges himself consistently, so a lot of times I think - at some point, I don't know when, and it won't be any time soon - you will have to move on and get ready for next season," Romo said. "For me personally, I just feel very disappointed that I let some of the guys down on this team and our fans and this organization.
"But at the same time, I would like to think that we are going to have a lot of opportunities to make a run here in the future."
Once Romo's spirits perk up and Parcells' status is cleared up, the next-biggest issue is Terrell Owens' future.
He led the NFL in touchdown catches and was the Cowboys' top receiver. However, the weekly drama that surrounded him, and all the plays he didn't make could get him dumped by a second team in as many years, especially with a $3 million bonus due in March.
The going theory has been that Parcells or T.O. will be gone, and maybe both. The idea of both returning seems as likely as, well, a botched snap by a Pro Bowl quarterback costing a team from trying a game-winning field goal in the playoffs.
"I certainly have never had even an inkling of a discussion or an indication of `him or me' from either of them. Ever," Jones said.
Does Owens even want to return?
"Definitely," he said. "I see no reason not to. ... We can't do nothing now but regroup, come back next year and shoot for it again."
Parcells said last week the playoffs wouldn't impact his decision. Now, it seems hard to imagine that NOT being a factor.
Jones isn't giving Parcells a deadline.
"We might meet at some point, but we haven't got it scheduled," he said. "I'm going to think about it. We'll see."