ARLINGTON, Texas - "Destiny waits on no man."
Jason Witten believes that, and when he said it after the Cowboys' dramatic 34-31 Divisional Playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers it was pretty apparent that it didn't make him feel much better.
It's hard to say that the Witten or the Cowboys didn't do enough in a game that was lost on the heels of a miraculous 36-yard sideline catch and a 51-yard field goal as the clock expired.
But after a spectacular season that, at times, might have felt like destiny, the Cowboys played just one playoff game.
Witten certainly did his part in what will be remembered for years as a playoff classic. He caught six passes for 59 yards, and a fourth quarter touchdown that sparked a Dallas comeback.
"I think the momentum started to swing there for us really with three or four good possessions," Witten said afterwards. "It felt like it was moving in our favor and our defense was fighting all game."
But it wasn't enough and the disappointment was written on Witten's face after the game.
"It's hard to get here," Witten said. "It's really hard to get here. And for that there's a lot of emotions going through my mind."
It's rare to see months' worth of commitment and work taken away from someone in a matter of seconds, but that's where Witten and the rest of the Cowboys stood after the game. "I poured everything I had into this season and this moment," he said afterwards.
But unlike a few notable Cowboys, Witten is no longer a young man. He is playing on the other side of his prime years as an athlete. 2016 was his lowest yardage total since his rookie season in 2003. After coming up short surrounded by talented players it's hard not to wonder how many more opportunities Witten will have at competing for a Super Bowl.
"Look, I'm in my 14th year and there's a shelf life for everything," Witten said. "You put everything you have into it and when you come up short it's tough."
But on young teams, leadership is crucial, and no one would doubt that Witten's place on this team was no small part in the this year's culture for the Cowboys.
"There [are] no promises in this game, but it's been one hell of a group and I'm proud to be one of the leaders of this team," Witten reflected. "And I thank them for that, for what they gave to this season."
Witten has already more than doubled the average length of an NFL career. It's safe to assume that he'll be back catching passes for the Cowboys next season, but after the emotion of Sunday's playoff loss he was carrying an understandable amount of emptiness that kept him from making any guarantees.
"I haven't really thought about it," Witten said of a return next season. "Every year when I empty it at this point, you give it everything you got and I take time to reflect on it. I love this team and I love this group of guys so [returning] would be the plan for sure."
There wasn't any resentment or finger pointing in the Cowboys' locker room after the gut-wrenching loss. According to Witten, the team won 13 games by sticking together. Looking at the season through that perspective makes it easier to focus on all of the successes.
"The unity of this team and how we've handled every situation from the first day of training camp to Seattle when Tony went down to the win streak it's just been a close group."