IRVING, Texas – The 8-8 season wasn't a complete failure in the minds of many Cowboys players.
While the ultimate goal wasn't reached, most of the team didn't look back at the year with absolute bitterness, and instead found reasons to stay optimistic moving forward.
"We can't just say we didn't make the playoffs, so this whole season was a bust," said guard Nate Livings. "No, because we put too much work into it. The only thing we can do is see where we went wrong. I know this answer is cliché, but that's the only thing you can do to get better. I'm going to be up here this offseason, a couple other guys on the line are going to be up here, and we're just going to try to get better as a unit and just become a real, real tight unit."
Livings said he doesn't accept losing or ending the season early, but the 31 teams who don't take home a championship can't complain when the season ends differently than expected.
"You can't be all over the place," Livings said. "You've got to go back to work and try and get better for the next season."
The year didn't go as planned for players like Sean Lee, who only played six games before a season-ending toe injury, but he remains excited for what the future can hold when he and Bruce Carter are healthy in the middle of the defense.
The team kept winning games and staying competitive after the losses of starters in Lee, Carter, Barry Church, Jay Ratliff, Josh Brent, and Orlando Scandrick, among others, and Lee said that experience can be valuable for the team's cohesiveness.
"The key for us now is to build on our mistakes, find a way to become better football players, and we have to find a way next year to win consistently," Lee said. "I think we've got the right guys now, and it's a matter of staying on the field, becoming better football players and putting it out there."
Lee also pointed out the team's resiliency. The team kept fighting for 60 minutes every week. No game ever seemed out of reach and no deficit seemed insurmountable. Lee's first goal for next season is to stay on the field, and his next is to find a way to turn those close matchups into wins more consistently.
"There were a lot of positives that came out of the season," Lee said. "We won certain games that were tough games, hard-fought games, but for us, we want to be playing in the playoffs, playing for a Super Bowl every year, so we need to find a way to become a better football team, and it starts with looking at yourself as a player."
The injuries held the defense back from performing to its potential. The team also had to find a way to persevere after the death of teammate Jerry Brown and the subsequent loss of Brent on the field.
Brandon Carr said every adverse situation was handled admirably, and though the end result wasn't ideal, he can see reasons to remain enthusiastic about the future. Still, he felt the season ended more abruptly than it should have.
"You can't sugarcoat it," Carr said. "I'm not going to make an excuse for anything…heading into the season our expectations were high. Me heading here to Dallas to play, I was excited that I'd finally get to play in a postseason and make some noise, but I'll have to wait one more year and hopefully guys will come with a chip on their shoulder and ready to put some work in."
The end of the season means one more year without a ring for veterans like Tony Romo and Jason Witten, but it also means another year of valuable experience for blossoming young talents like Carr, Lee and DeMarco Murray, who remained optimistic about the team's chances in 2013 and beyond.
"We have a great staff, great players here," Murray said. "I'm glad to be a part of this team, and I'm looking forward to the future of this team. There's a lot of young talent and a great group of veteran guys who'll lead us the right way."