ARLINGTON, Texas – The epitaph for the 2019 Dallas Cowboys season will read something like this, however painful that might be:
Just not good enough.
Just not consistent enough.
Just not clutch enough.
Just one win shy.
Just downright disappointing.
Yep, no two ways about it.
Why, the quarterback, Dak Prescott, powering through in the final two games with a painful AC joint sprain in his right shoulder to finish the season with 4,902 yards passing, a yard short of matching the franchise single-season record, a 99.7 QB rating and a career-high 30 touchdowns.
The running back, Ezekiel Elliott, finished with 1,357 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns, the third 1,000-yard season of his four-year career.
They had two 1,000-yard receivers, Amari Cooper finishing with 1,189 yards and eight touchdowns, and Michael Gallup finishing with 1,107 and six touchdowns. And their third receiver, Randall Cobb, finished with 828 yards, the most by the team's third receiver in club history since in 2016, Cole Beasley actually led the team with 833 receiving yards.
And get this, from a team standpoint, the Cowboys offense finished with the most total yards in franchise history (6,904), the most passing yards in franchise history (4,751) and the Cowboys finished with the No. 1 offense in the NFL (431.5), the first time they've had the top offense in the league since 1977 when they won Super Bowl XII.
Yet these 2019 Cowboys finished only 8-8. Yep, 8-8 for the fourth time in the last nine years.
No winning record.
No NFC East title.
No playoff appearance.
No joy here in the AT&T Stadium locker room early Sunday evening, despite beating the Washington Redskins in the season finale, 47-16, upholding their end of the Week 17 bargain in an effort to win back-to-back NFC East titles. But unfortunately the Giants only teased them needing a favor to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, letting a 17-17 game with 2:05 left in the third quarter get away, the Eagles winning 34-17 and consequently the East at 9-7.
"I don't know if I've ever been disappointed after a win, to be honest," Prescott said, the Cowboys after getting off to a muddied start, then outscoring the Redskins 27-3 over the final 26 minutes, 54 seconds of the game.
"But that was tonight. It was unfortunate and very disappointing."
Highly disappointing. In fact, considering this team's offensive prowess, eight times scoring at least 31 points, and having defeated the 9-7 Eagles 37-10 the first time around, and most recently dismantling the defending NFC champion Rams 44-21, along with the projected talent, this might go down as the most disappointing season for the Dallas Cowboys – sans a debilitating QB injury or a significant suspension – since 1997 when after six consecutive winning seasons, including those three Super Bowl titles, they fell apart after a 6-5 start to finish 6-10. Before that, the 9-7 season of 1984, ending a streak of nine consecutive playoff appearances. But at least the Cowboys had a winning record. Same in the 1974 season (8-6).
But this meh of an 8-8 season likely will cause an upheaval in the organization. Head coach Jason Garrett just finished the final season of his contract. And even though as Troy Aikman said in Sunday's Fox broadcast, "The last thing Jerry Jones wants to do is not have Jason Garrett as his head football coach," the outside pressure just might force his hand.
And if Garrett's nine-year reign as the team's leader ends, who knows what a new head coach would want to do with the offensive staff and likely the defensive staff, too. That long-term consistency Jones has desired with a coaching staff would likely evaporate into thin air.
Or with a roster, especially with 26 projected unrestricted free agents coming up in 2020, including the likes of Prescott, Cooper, Cobb, Byron Jones, Jason Witten, Sean Lee, Robert Quinn, Anthony Brown, Jeff Heath, L.P. Ladouceur, Joe Looney, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Kavon Frazier and even new-found kicker Kai Forbath.
But the Cowboys only have themselves to blame for this major disappointment. Those two, two-point losses to the Saints and, for heaven's sakes, the Jets. The two four-point losses to the Vikings and Patriots. So many close calls the Cowboys could not finish, going 1-6 in those one-score games.
As Jones would say, "These are the consequences. You can't have some of the missteps or the losses that we had throughout the year and not ultimately pay the fiddler."
The Cowboys have paid – and will pay – heavily.
How many times is a locker room morgue-like after dismantling a division foe by 31 points? After winning a game you just had to win no more than a week after the most deflating loss of the season, losing 17-9 to the Eagles when a victory would have wrapped up the division and might have changed how most everyone felt about this roller-coaster of a season?
"It sucks that were not playing next week," said linebacker Jaylon Smith.
"This is obviously tough, but that's on us," said receiver Michael Gallup, unable to celebrate his spectacular three-touchdown performance. "We were supposed to win those games and we didn't."
"We did it to ourselves, and me as the leader," Dak said. "You have to live and learn."
But unfortunately, the ultimate blame will rest on Garrett's shoulders. That's life in the NFL. That's the life of a head coach. And this is the residue that comes when a team with so much promise finishes 8-8.
Yet Garrett, that stand-up guy he's always been, spoke for nearly 10 minutes at the podium after the game, and when asked why this team only finished 8-8, he spelled it out perfectly, to a T.
"Obviously, we didn't play consistently well enough," he said. "I thought we played well at different times, within games, (but) I thought we weren't consistent enough. Week to week, we weren't consistent enough. Last year we did a really good job of winning a ton of close games. We did not win those close games this year, and we didn't do what we needed to do in critical moments in those games.
"And this is what this league comes down to."
Yes it does, so here lie the 2019 Dallas Cowboys, shrouded with woulda, coulda, shoulda disappointment.
And there ends up being a price to pay.