He couldn't do it. And just like that, it all slipped away from the Dallas Cowboys.
Romo's bobble on the field-goal try with 1:19 left led to a scramble that ended 2 yards shy of the end zone and a yard short of a first down, preserving a 21-20 victory for the Seattle Seahawks in the wildest of wild-card games Saturday night.
"You coach long enough, you end up seeing just about everything," Seattle's Mike Holmgren said. "One more thing for the journal."
The excitement he felt probably didn't match the despair for Dallas coach Bill Parcells, who was oh-so-close to his first playoff win since 1998 and the Cowboys' first postseason victory since 1996.
"It was just one of those things," Parcells said. "It looked like a good snap. I can't tell you what happened after that. We're an extra point from being down to the eight teams left. That's what's the hardest thing."
Romo was a big reason Dallas even made it this far, having saved the season by winning five of his first six starts after replacing Drew Bledsoe at quarterback.
That was little comfort after Romo's last-second heave fell incomplete. He walked off the field briskly, head down, and was choked up during a postgame interview. In the locker room, he sat on a chair facing his locker, his shoulders hunched.
"I know how hard everyone in that locker room worked to get themselves in position to win that game today and for it to end like that, and for me to be the cause is very tough to swallow right now," Romo said. "I take responsibility for messing up at the end there. That's my fault. I cost the Dallas Cowboys a playoff win, and it's going to sit with me a long time."
Gramatica's kick was supposed to cap a thrilling rally by Dallas.
After protecting a 20-13 lead with a stop by the defense, the Cowboys fell behind when Terry Glenn's fumble turned into a safety and Seattle followed with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Jerramy Stevens. With Dallas down a point with 4:24 left, Romo drove the Cowboys right back down the field and into position for the win.
He moved the Cowboys from their 28 to the Seattle 2, where a pass to Jason Witten was initially ruled a first down before a replay showed the Cowboys were short. Parcells seemed tempted to go for it on fourth-and-1, leaving his offense on the field until Seattle called a timeout. Then he sent in Gramatica, the late-season replacement for Mike Vanderjagt who'd already made the coach look good by hitting from 50 and 29 yards.
Romo -- who has been holding since last season, long before he ever threw a pass in the NFL -- caught the snap cleanly but didn't put it down right.
Gramatica never swung his leg, instead forced to get out of the way as Romo picked up the ball and darted left to try to make up for his mistake.
He never made it, getting stopped at the 2 on an ankle tackle by Jordan Babineaux. His last-minute interception set up Seattle's game-winning kick the last time Dallas played here.
"I just tried to walk him down," Babineaux said. "I grabbed him by the ankles, saved the tackle. It was very huge."
Colts 23, Chiefs 8
While Manning's numbers were good, his performance was mediocre. Fortunately for the Colts, their beleaguered defense bailed them out with a strong effort in a 23-8 victory over the inept Kansas City Chiefs.
For most of the day, the Indianapolis defense was so good — or perhaps more accurately, Kansas City's offense was so bad — that Manning's miscues didn't stop the AFC South champions from advancing to the next round at Baltimore. While Manning was throwing three interceptions and looking tentative, the Chiefs' Larry Johnson and Trent Green were simply awful for more than 40 minutes.
Kansas City's offensive line, expected to dominate a defense that yielded 173 yards rushing per game this season, got overrun for much of the day. The Chiefs' initial first down came with 3:34 remaining in the third quarter.
Until falling behind 16-0, they looked like a team surprised to have made the playoffs, which they did last Sunday with a lot of help from other clubs.
Meanwhile, Adam Vinatieri made three field goals and rookie Joseph Addai rushed for 122 yards and a TD for the Colts (13-4). Wisely, with Manning unable to throw deep, Indianapolis gave Kansas City (9-8) a steady dose of short passes that wore out the Chiefs.
That was most evident after Kansas City finally woke up and drove 60 yards to a 6-yard touchdown catch by Tony Gonzalez with 8 seconds remaining in the third period. Then the Colts went 71 yards on nine plays, mostly victimizing the Chiefs' linebackers underneath. Reggie Wayne caught a 5-yard TD pass to make it 23-8.
When Bob Sanders intercepted Green's desperate lob with just more than 6 minutes remaining, the Colts could start making travel plans.
The Colts also sacked Green four times and had two interceptions. Johnson, who rushed for 1,789 yards and 17 TDs this season, was never a factor. He had only 32 yards on 13 carries.
And while Manning's favorite receiver, Marvin Harrison, also had little impact, tight end Dallas Clark, in just his second game back from a knee injury, had nine catches for 103 yards.
Manning was 30-of-38 for 268 yards, with a vast majority of the completions on short throws.
Still, the Colts will need a steadier showing against the Ravens in Baltimore, the city the Colts left 23 years ago.
This game took a far different shape than the previous meeting between these clubs.
When Dustin Colquitt punted less than 1 1/2 minutes into the game, it was one more punt than in a 38-31 Indianapolis win three years ago at Kansas City. His 37-yard effort gave the Colts good field position, and they wound up with Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal.
Vinatieri added a 19-yarder to make it 6-0 following a 42-yard hookup on third down between Manning and Harrison on another short pass.
By the end of the first quarter, the Colts had run 20 plays, the Chiefs 12 — including three punts. Kansas City gained 2 yards in the period.
Manning nearly handed Kansas City points when his throw behind Harrison from the Colts 49 went to nemesis Ty Law. He ran to the Indy 9, but again the Chiefs couldn't do anything. Even worse for them, Lawrence Tynes missed the chip-shot field goal, clanging it off the left upright.
Combined with four dropped passes, no first downs — that's right, none — and 16 total yards, it made for a futile first half for the Chiefs, who haven't won a postseason game in 13 years.
Law got his ninth career pick of Manning early in the third quarter, but KC went three-and-out again. Coach Herman Edwards, one of Colts coach Tony Dungy's best friends and a former assistant under Dungy, looked perplexed. That look never faded.