Playoff Exit Serves As Jarring Conclusion To Cowboys' Storybook Season

ARLINGTON, Texas – In the span of three short seconds, it all went away.

The transition is jarring – even unbelievable. Mason Crosby connected on a 51-yard field goal, and the Cowboys transformed. From a Super Bowl contender, having played 17 football games in 19 weeks, with everything on the line, to just another NFL team facing an uncertain offseason.

"I thought that we were a team that was capable of taking this thing all the way. I know we are now after that second half," said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones. "It is nothing but words. It's no solace. But we have a team and we have players that are made of the kind of thing that can win these big games. We didn't do it."

Both of Jones' sentiments are true. The Cowboys showed impressive mettle down the home stretch of their final game. They battled back from a 21-3 deficit, tying the Packers with just 35 seconds to play in a playoff classic.

But after a 13-3 season and an 11-game win streak saw them clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, no one's going to sign up for moral victories – especially not Jones. For him, the fact that his team fought back so valiantly made the loss all the more painful.

"There's no moral victory here, because there might have been a morale victory here had we continued to play the way it was looking earlier -- but for this bunch to come back, get it together," he said.

The game looked startlingly similar to so many other outings that swung in the Cowboys' favor this season.

Dak Prescott finished the day having completed 63 percent of his passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns, with a passer rating of 103.2. Ezekiel Elliott chugged along for 125 rushing yards.

[embeddedad0]After a slow start, the Dallas defense even kicked into its usual game plan. Having surrendered three long scoring drives in the first half, the Cowboys limited Aaron Rodgers to an interception, a punt and a field goal on three-of-five second half possessions.

On this particular occasion, that just wasn't enough.

"It's a tough game, man," said Brandon Carr. "Playing against a high-powered offense and a quarterback that can do it all. They made more plays than us today, and you've got to live with it."

Carr provides a fitting juxtaposition for this Cowboys team as it faces the end of its season. As the Packers celebrated on the turf at AT&T Stadium, the veteran corner stood on the turf and looked on in frustration. In just three short seconds, he transformed from a Cowboys starter to a veteran corner with an expiring contract.
"That time after the game was just taking it all in," Carr said. "We'll see what happens moving forward."

Moving forward, the future is undeniably bright for this franchise, with both Prescott and Elliott emerging as stars in their rookie years. The Cowboys also figure to have franchise talents like Dez Bryant, Sean Lee and their All-Pro offensive line for the foreseeable future

But for all of those benefits, the fact remains that the 2016 Dallas Cowboys are done playing football. Veterans like Carr, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne, Darren McFadden and Terrance Williams head forward into uncertain futures. This exact group of players won't share a locker room again.

"I was looking forward to getting up tomorrow, going in and watching film, getting in the cold tubs and just getting ready for Atlanta," Carr said. "It's tough. You're empty, but you've got to keep moving on and get your body back ready for another grind."

The grind will continue, like it always does. A Super Bowl champion will be crowned on Feb. 5, and draft preparations will begin. The offseason program will start in April, followed by the draft, and training camp will arrive in the blink of an eye.

But again, for all the promise of the unknown future, it brings change – for better or for worse. This specific Cowboys team, which was just two wins away from the Super Bowl, heads into the long offseason, along with no shortage of what-if's.

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