ARLINGTON, Texas – Dak Prescott summed it up succinctly in the wake of a devastating postseason exit.
"Not good enough, simple as that," he said. "I take a lot of pride in my job, and I take accountability in this loss."
There are endless, bizarre wrinkles coming out of this loss to San Francisco – all of which Prescott covered in a 15-minute press conference. But in a results-oriented business, the main storyline for the Cowboys' franchise quarterback is that he turned in the third-worst passer rating of his season during a home playoff game.
"In certain situations in the game, certain plays in the game, I've got to be better to help this team win and overcome some of the things we've put ourselves into," he said.
With the exception of one 67-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, the Cowboys' offense was far from its explosive self in this showdown against San Francisco. In addition to just two touchdowns – one of which was set up on a short field by an Anthony Brown interception – the Cowboys struggled to a mere 307 yards of offense. That's good enough for fourth-worst of their season, faring better than similarly deflating losses to Arizona, Denver and Kansas City.
"Offensively we had a hard time getting into rhythm," said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy. "I think the timing of the penalties, they obviously stopped some drives and you don't want to be in long D and Ds with this defensive front."
The penalties were a storyline at AT&T Stadium, and have been documented elsewhere. Aside from flags putting them in bad positions, as McCarthy noted, the 49ers' defensive front did plenty on its own.
It's worth noting that San Francisco played half of this game without all-world pass rusher Nick Bosa. And yet, the 49ers finished the day with five sacks of Prescott, with 4.5 of those coming from other pass rushers.
"We got smacked in the mouth early today," said Zack Martin. "Credit to our guys for coming back and fighting through and making it a game. We need to get better."
As has also been the case throughout much of the second half of this season, the 49ers managed to take the ground game away without too much trouble. The Cowboys finished with just 77 rushing yards, with 35% of that output coming from Prescott. Their running backs combined to average just north of three yards per carry.
"We needed to play cleaner football. That's kind of been the story all year," said Ezekiel Elliott.
Into that maelstrom stepped Prescott, who – there's no use denying it – signed a $160 million to deliver in these types of situations. To be fair to him, there were some nice moments, highlighted by a 20-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper to get the Cowboys on the board and a five-yard scoring run to cut the 49ers' deficit to six.
Those moments ring hollow having watched such an explosive offense finish with just 17 points, however. The Cowboys had 11 possessions on Sunday afternoon, and seven of them ended without them scoring points. An eighth put them behind the eight ball when Prescott threw an interception at his own 26-yard line, setting San Francisco up to take a 23-7 lead.
"In all my years I don't know that I've had a better chance or a better full team than this," Prescott said. "It's hard to accept knowing every year that a team's not going to be the same, some of those guys won't be back. It's just hard for me to accept right now."
Everything about this loss will sting for quite some time. For the Cowboys to jump out to the record they did, in the fashion they did, makes it tough to reconcile a wildcard exit from the playoffs. Given the pedigree of this organization, Prescott didn't shy away from that fact.
"Obviously, when you play for the Dallas Cowboys, you understand it's Super Bowl or nothing," he said.
It's tough, but it's the truth. That's the standard the Cowboys – and specifically Prescott – will be held to. And while he was adamant that he's up for the challenge, it will be a long wait to get back.
"I think this is a season that will probably stick with me and motivate me throughout the rest of my career, not just this offseason," he said.