GREEN BAY – It's a sobering thought, but it was eloquently stated by Travis Fredericks. Whatever triumphs or failures await the Dallas Cowboys in the future, Sunday was the last time this team – this exact team – will play together.
"It's the end of the season, it's the end of the year," Frederick said. "There's guys on this team that I'm not going to play with anymore, and that hurts."
There is plenty of second-guessing ahead, be it Dez Bryant's overturned catch or debating play calls. Bryant said it himself, though: the Cowboys' season is over.
"Yeah. Yeah. I understand it – I see it's clearly over. It's over. I hate that it had to end this way," he said.
That's the crossroads the Cowboys sit at as they return to Texas. On one hand is the disappointment of a heartbreaking loss; on the other hand is the success of a 13-5 record and an NFC East title.
"I think it was an incredible run. We have just a tremendous group of guys here," Frederick said. "I played on some pretty good teams in college – even last year. You could tell this team is different. It's been an honor to play with them."
The Cowboys entered this season with few, if any expectations on them. Team owner/general manager Jerry Jones said in August that he knew 2014 would be "an uphill battle." None of that was lost on Jeremy Mincey, who talked to his reporters after his team fell a handful of plays short of a berth in the conference championship game.
"I'm still proud of my men – I don't give a damn what nobody says, I'm proud of them," Mincey said. "Every man in this locker room, fighting all the way up to this point. Nobody expected nothing out of us, you know? So, we came out here and handled business – we just could have done it in a better fashion and left on a better note."
Of course, there's a flip side to every coin. Try as some might to find silver linings, Barry Church said there's only one measure of success in the NFL – a measure the Cowboys didn't reach this season.
"The goal is winning a Super Bowl, and we weren't able to do that, so – on to the next season, I guess," he said.
DeMarco Murray might have more reason than anyone to disagree with that sentiment, as he concluded a season that saw him set franchise records and careers bests – all in a contract year. Despite that, the All-Pro running back affirmed Church's opinion.
"This wasn't our goal, to get to the second round, by any means," Murray said. "We wanted to end up in Arizona playing for the Super Bowl – it just didn't happen for us."
Now, the long road of preparation for next season begins. The Cowboys will start off 2015 with more questions than answers, but the consensus was that there's plenty of reason for optimism among those in their locker room.
"Bunch of guys that are dedicated to the game and fought well – fought hard," Church said. "Hopefully we can keep all the pieces together and for years to come we'll be a formidable team."
That's about as far as anyone was willing to reflect for now. As successful as 2014 might have been, it will take a bit longer to digest the way it ended.
"You don't want to look at it now. Now, you want to look at what you did wrong in the game, you want to try to figure out where we went wrong, what we didn't get done," Frederick said. "But you can take solace looking back on the year and seeing all the good things that you've done, too. We'll figure it out tomorrow."