IRVING -- The Dallas Cowboys have mourned since the sudden ending to their season. Three weeks later, the pain has gotten only bigger.
As in, it now is a Giant hurt they feel.
The Cowboys essentially had two chances to eliminate the New York Giants. They didn't take care of business, and now the Giants are playing the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
It doesn't help that the Cowboys beat the 49ers in overtime, 27-24, in San Francisco in Week 2.
"I think it's the nature of the NFL," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "There are a lot of close games that all the teams play. The teams that are still playing are the ones that know how to win those games on a more consistent basis."
The Cowboys went 1-3 against three of the four teams left in the postseason. They blew fourth-quarter leads against both the New England Patriots and the Giants. They rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit against the 49ers.
Tom Brady ended the Cowboys' upset plans in New England in October. He led the Patriots on an 80-yard drive that culminated with an 8-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining in a 20-16 victory.
Eli Manning rallied the Giants from a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit against the Cowboys on Dec. 11. The Giants scored with 51 seconds left and then blocked a Cowboys field-goal attempt on the final play to keep alive their postseason hopes.
The Giants then eliminated the Cowboys in the regular-season finale, winning 31-14.
As it turned out, the victory over the 49ers was the highlight of the Cowboys' season. It was their only win over a team that finished the season with a winning record.
Tony Romo played 15:37 of that game with a fractured rib and what a CT scan a day later determined was a partial puncture of a lung. Yet, he went 5 of 6 for 37 yards on the game-tying drive and then completed a 77-yard pass to Jesse Holley on Dallas' first play in overtime.
"We're certainly encouraged by some of the things that happened in those games," Garrett said. "Certainly, the win against San Francisco, how we played, how we came back -- tied it and then winning it in overtime -- that's a real positive thing for our football team. I think at the same time, we have to do that on a more consistent basis than we did. We're excited about the opportunity to get a chance to do that next year."
Romo almost certainly will face an off-season of more questions about his postseason record, given that Manning now is 6-3 in his career in the postseason and could have a second Super Bowl ring.
Romo has one playoff victory since taking over as the team's starter in the middle of the 2006 season, and the Cowboys have missed the playoffs each of the past two seasons, failing even to produce a winning record.
But Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Roger Staubach, Steve Young and Trent Dilfer have defended Romo this week.
"Tony has greatness in him," Dilfer said on an ESPN conference call this week. "I think when you talk to other people who really play the quarterback position, and I see it, as well, there are a few guys that really have incredible greatness in them, and Tony is one of them.
"I think the issue here is he needs more help from his teammates. I think they are not nearly as talented as people say they are, from 1 to 53; I'm talking about the total roster. I don't think there's as much order and structure in the organization as the Giants have, and the teams that have the elite quarterbacks have.
"I think the only thing that's keeping Tony from ascending into the upper echelon of quarterbacks is his team, is the help from his friends and his teammates, and I think once that all comes together, you're going to see the fullness of Tony's greatness come out."
The Cowboys are trying to get over 2011, put it behind them and look ahead to a better 2012. Or so they hope.
"Certainly, the emotional disappointment will probably stick with us," Garrett said. "I think we did a lot of really good things this year, and there are some things that were certainly disappointing. We certainly didn't get the results that we wanted from our season. But you try to build on the good things. You try to learn from the things that weren't quite as good and correct those things and go forward. That's the process that we're in right now."