IRVING, Texas (Jan. 1, 2006) -- Once the Dallas Cowboys ran out of ways to make the playoffs about an hour before their season finale, the only question left was whether they'd have any fight left against the St. Louis Rams.
The Cowboys allowed Aveion Cason and Arlen Harris to run for their first touchdowns since 2003 and scored the fewest points against the Rams this season in a 20-10 loss Sunday night.
"I think we were a little deflated mentally, especially our offensive group," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "We just seemed to not be on edge in light of what happened today, probably."
The game was rendered meaningless when Washington beat Philadelphia and eliminated Dallas from the wild-card chase. A Carolina victory over Atlanta earlier in the day cut off another potential path to the playoffs. A long-shot scenario had fizzled when the New York Giants won Saturday night.
Despite all the Cowboys (9-7) had done to prepare for this game in case they were playing for a playoff berth, they showed none of the "spunk" Parcells praised them for having only a week earlier.
"The atmosphere tonight was totally different," safety Keith Davis said. "If I told you it wasn't, I'd be lying. But it wasn't the Eagles, it wasn't Atlanta -- it was us. We were in too many close games all year long. I don't point the finger at anybody but the Dallas Cowboys."
Dallas went 6-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less. This one was headed to balancing that slate until St. Louis' Jeff Wilkins kicked a 20-yard field goal with 1:05 left, making this the second-worst margin of defeat for the Cowboys all season.
Now the wait begins to find out whether Parcells is coming back for the final season of his 4-year, $17 million contract. He wouldn't say what he's doing or when he'll meet with team owner Jerry Jones to discuss it.
"I just got to get away from it a little while," Parcells said.
Jones told ESPN during an in-game interview, "I hope that we can continue what we've got started here." In the somber locker room afterward, Jones said, "You know how I feel about the job he's done."
Under Parcells, the Cowboys are 25-24 in three years, a big turnaround from 15-33 the three previous seasons.
St. Louis (6-10) ended a four-game losing streak and won for only the second time in its last eight games. It may be a going-away present for Marshall Faulk, who got his first start of the season, and coach Mike Martz, who has missed the last 11 games because of health problems and is believed to be on his way out.
"The guys played with a lot of passion," interim coach Joe Vitt said. "They practiced well the last four weeks and had nothing to show for it. I'm proud that they got this win."
The Rams came in averaging a league-worst 27.9 points per game and were near the bottom in total defense and run defense. They didn't look like that this time, holding Dallas to 271 yards and a season-low 57 yards rushing.
The Cowboys scored an early touchdown, but couldn't do much right for long after that. They went sack, fumble, sack on a second-quarter drive, then started a third-quarter possession with a false start; a holding penalty that wiped out a decent run; then a sack by an unblocked defender on third down. Many fans missed that play, however, because they were doing the wave.
All Dallas could get over the last 3½ quarters was a 22-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham with 3 seconds left in the half that tied the game at 10. He missed way right on a 47-yarder with 9:28 left.
The Rams got a 49-yard field goal by Wilkins, an 8-yard touchdown run by Cason, who hadn't taken a handoff all season until this game, and a 1-yarder by Harris that made it 17-10 early in the fourth quarter.
Cason and Harris got so much prime action because Steven Jackson was inactive, the same reason Faulk started. Cason gained 65 yards, Faulk 25 and Harris 15.
Faulk said afterward that he hasn't given any thought to whether he'll be back next season.
"I think it's unfair to even speculate on any decision because I haven't made one," he said.
Dallas' Julius Jones gained 35 yards a week after gaining 194. He fell 7 yards shy of 1,000, missing the chance to join his brother Thomas of Chicago, and to be the first Cowboys player to crack that milestone since Emmitt Smith in 2001.
Drew Bledsoe finished his first season in Dallas going 18 of 39 for 242 yards, giving him the second-best season in team history (3,639). However, he also lost his NFL-worst eighth fumble and threw two interceptions, the first setting up Wilkins' final field goal, the last coming on the Cowboys' final snap of the season.
Notes: Keyshawn Johnson caught five passes for 97 yards, then was the last player to leave the Dallas bench, a sour look on his face. ... Wilkins hit the left upright on a 27-yarder and narrowly missed from 53 yards after a strange intentional grounding penalty tacked 10 yards onto the attempt. ... St. Louis beat a winning team for only the second time.