ARLINGTON, Texas – Jerry Jones has seen three Super Bowl championships and his share of playoff heartbreak in over 30 years as Cowboys owner and general manager.
When was the last time he felt this disappointed after a loss?
"I can't remember," he told reporters in the field-level tunnel of AT&T Stadium.
Sunday's 23-17 wild-card-round defeat to the San Francisco 49ers might go in a separate category.
"Extremely, extremely disappointing and surprising," he said.
The reason is simple. Jones – along with the team and many others -- believed this year's Cowboys were headed for a special run.
The Cowboys (12-5) had a six-win improvement in head coach Mike McCarthy's second year, jumping from 6-10 to the NFC East title. Led by first-round draft pick Micah Parsons and league-interception leader Trevon Diggs, a revamped defense led the league in takeaways. And despite a dip in production after the bye, the offense still entered the playoffs No. 1 in scoring and yardage.
On paper, that's a recipe for a potential deep run in January.
But the same issues that plagued the Cowboys against some other playoff-caliber teams during the regular-season resurfaced in the postseason: slow start, penalties, big yards-after-catch gains allowed.
"Quite a letdown," Jones said.
"This was a game that we needed to show. Against a team like San Francisco, as solid a team as they are, no matter how good we looked on paper we needed to make this happen. I'm really disappointed for our fans. They really deserved to see this team advance on into the playoffs."
Jones deflected reporters' questions about McCarthy and the coaching staff -- the team's preparation level, whether a loss like this could cause him to consider coaching changes, etc.
"I'm not going to discuss coaching, the preparation, any of those things. That's not on the table. The game speaks for itself," Jones said. "Really, I thought the score was not indicative of the game. But the way our team fought back and got back in the game, gave us a chance to give a shot. I was really proud of (that)."
Frankly, Jones' focus after the game -- reluctantly -- was immediate reflection, trying to process a scenario he couldn't envision Sunday morning:
The Cowboys going home for good this postseason.
"This is one of the best teams that I've been a part of that this happened to," he said.