It happened a lot later than some of their doubters predicted, but also a couple games shy of where they wanted, as the Dallas Cowboys begin to pack up and prepare for the offseason on the heels of dropping a 19-12 defensive battle against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Round.
But before they look forward to see what's next, they must look back to see what could've been.
The Verdikt (Patrik) — What a ride, folks. It was a season many predicted was over before the ball got kicked off in Week 2, seeing as the Cowboys lost Dak Prescott for five games and, in Week 1, the offense looked disjointed with him under center (so many predicted it'd fall off of the rails with Cooper Rush taking snaps). Instead, they mounted a four-game win streak on the backs of the defense and special teams unit, but things got inconsistent from there.
Delivering two consecutive 12-5 seasons is a phenomenal feat, but only if they're made to matter in the postseason. Kudos to Mike McCarthy and the coaching staff for proving their resiliency in never allowing the Cowboys to suffer a two-game losing streak at any point in the season, and for exorcising the Tom Brady demon (in the playoffs, no less) but, in the end, it was lack of execution between the lines that did Dallas in.
Dak Prescott will enter the offseason with interceptions haunting his sleep, as it will his receivers', who were accountable for some of them. The front office, who was stellar in throwing quality free agents at positions of need, has to sift through a laundry list of upcoming Cowboys free agents (and coaches) and have lots of tough discussions — effective immediately.
It was a fun ride in 2022, with far more ups than downs, the problem being just how often the downs came at the worst possible time and, ultimately, with a trip to the NFC Championship Game on the line.
Unsung Hero (Patrik) — It feels like it was just yesterday when CeeDee Lamb was being blunt and honest in addressing questions regarding his ability to grow into the role of WR1 on the heels of the Cowboys trading away Amari Cooper to the Browns. But once Lamb got going, following the return of Prescott, he went on a heater that answered all of the questions for him.
Lamb was again a beacon of hope when the Cowboys faced the 49ers on Sunday, reeling in 117 yards to try and help the offense power through their struggles. It was not to be, though, but credit Lamb for once again putting on his cape to try and save the day.
Milestone Moment (Nick) — CeeDee Lamb had 10 catches for 117 yards, racking up the most catches in a game by a Cowboys receiver since Michael Irvin had 12 in the 1994 NFC Championship Game at San Francisco.
Stat of the Game (Nick) — While the Cowboys were able to keep the duo of Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey in check for the most part, they had a total of 113 combined offensive yards between them. That sounds like a win for the Cowboys, but on the flip side, their two running backs – Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott – had just 66 total yards between them. Pollard's second-quarter ankle injury was a big reason for that. But yes the Cowboys were able to keep the 49ers' runners in check but they didn't have much to produce on their end.
Kustodian's Kloset (Patrik) — Resiliency saved the season on more than one occasion for the Cowboys, but inconsistency ended it. The latter needs to be repaired if the Cowboys are to overcome their 28-year drought when next season rolls around, but when they reflect on the 2022 season they'll find themselves infuriated at how they could've been the No. 1 seed with home field advantage and a first-round bye — despite all of their adversity — if they were simply able to be the best version of themselves on a weekly basis.
The "Minnesota" version of the Cowboys showed up in Tampa, but the "Washington" version showed up in San Francisco and pushed them into the offseason short of their ultimate goal: a Super Bowl.
The Cowboys have finally figured out how to be great again, yes. The only question now is can they be great all of the time?