LOS ANGELES – There were a ton of talking points to come out of the Cowboys' exit from the playoffs on Saturday night, but Dak Prescott summarized the whole thing as brutally as possible.
"We missed an opportunity, and we don't know when we get it back," he said.
This was not a storybook sendoff by any stretch of the imagination. The Cowboys' 30-22 loss didn't come down to the final play, as the Rams ground out the final 2:11 of game clock without allowing their visitors another shot at the ball.
There was no last-minute heroism and no throng of media. Prescott's third NFL season ended in a makeshift tent, inside one of the cavernous tunnels at the L.A. Coliseum. The backdrop was hardly befitting of the journey, after the Cowboys clawed back from a 3-5 record to see their season end one touchdown short of the NFC Championship Game.
"I'm proud of this team," Prescott said. "But, any time you lose, especially when you know the team that we have and as close as we thought we were, it's not a good feeling."
The Cowboys' defensive lapses will steal the headlines for this game, but there's blame enough to go around. Prescott was solid, throwing for 266 yards and a touchdown and helping to spark the Dallas offense when it trailed, 23-7. His one-yard rushing touchdown with two minutes to play gave the Cowboys at least slim hope of tying the game.
For every success, though, there were plenty of shortcomings. As good as the Rams were on the ground, the Cowboys' own rushing attack sputtered. Ezekiel Elliott managed just 47 yards on the night, and Prescott carried the ball just twice – with both of those attempts coming late in the fourth quarter.
"They did a good job up front, just with their front, playing base front, the big guys they have," Prescott said. "You've got to credit this team we played. The guys they have up front, the guys that they have on their defense – just the whole team."
Those failures helped contribute to perhaps the most jarring stat of the entire night. From the time they traded for Amari Cooper, the Cowboys had been one of the best third down offenses in the entire league – but it didn't show on Saturday night.
The Cowboys went 1-of-10 on third downs in the game, which meant that three of their eight possessions lasted just four snaps or less.
"You can't win games, especially crucial games like this, when you have that stat on third down," Prescott said. "It's important to keep drives going. It keeps the defense well-rested, it keeps us on the field and gives us a chance to score. When you don't do that, it's hard."
Third down problems eventually carried over to fourth down, which helped to turn the game for good. Trailing, 23-15, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Prescott handed off to Elliott on a crucial 4th-and-1 at the Los Angeles 35-yard line – only to see him stuffed by Rams defenders.
Twelve plays later, C.J. Anderson scored his second rushing touchdown of the night, putting Dallas in a 15-point hole with 7:16 to play.
"You get that, we're still running the ball, we're throwing the ball," Prescott said. "We're doing everything, and it's not 'Hey, we've got to drop back and throw it every single time.' We just weren't able to execute, and it hurt."
Many of these problems don't fall at Prescott's feet. He missed throws and left plays on the field, without question. But the Cowboys' third-year quarterback played turnover-free football, took just one sack against a ferocious Rams front and kept his team in the game.
He's still the quarterback, however, and the criticism will still come. And in the face of another missed opportunity, all he could do was resolve to be ready for the next one.
"It just means I've got to get back to it again come February, simple as that," he said. "It's not anything you can dwell over. You can't change anything now. It's just about getting better, making sure I become a better player, making sure the people around me become a better player. We're going to turn the page and do that pretty soon."