MOBILE, Ala. – Stephen Jones knew the answer before the question was even finished being asked.
Given the time of year, it's a fitting question: Was last month's playoff loss to San Francisco more disappointing than any of the Cowboys' other recent heartbreaks?
Without needing time to consider, the Cowboys' chief operating officer gave a resounding yes.
"I just think we really felt like this team was coming together, getting the right traction and defensively under Dan's leadership we were making a lot of plays on the defensive side of the ball," Jones said. "We'd shown that we could play some good offensive football. Unfortunately, it just didn't come together."
Jones is in Mobile with his personnel staff as it dives into this year's Senior Bowl – the opening leg of the marathon that is draft season. But as intriguing as a new batch of draft prospects might be, this week is always bittersweet for the 30 teams that are focusing on draft picks instead of preparing for the Super Bowl.
The Cowboys are familiar with this feeling, but it might be even more sobering in 2022. For all their flaws, this most recent Cowboys team played like one of the best in the NFL for portions of the NFL season, but was never able to replicate that down the home stretch – and obviously not in the playoffs.
"We did have, as we all know, some high expectations for this team and it was certainly a tough one to lose that," Jones said.
With all those things in mind, the sting of this season will likely take a while to fade away. It's common knowledge that the Cowboys haven't played in a conference championship game, let alone a Super Bowl, since the 1995 season.
Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones is acutely aware of that. In the time since the score went final against San Francisco, he has spoken several times about painful it's been to see a once-promising season come to an early end.
"The point is I am frustrated, I'm still frustrated," Jones said last week. "If the wound is open, I want to rub salt in it. I want it to hurt. I'm being dramatic here, but this hurt and I want to do everything we can to remind us continually how bad it hurt to go home. This hurt. We had a good team."
The blunt truth is that frustration likely won't register with many fans, as Cowboys' last taste of postseason glory slips further into the past. The Cowboys are aware of that, as well – a large, visible reminder of the need for urgency.
"We've been unfortunately on a dry run and feel accountable that we owe it to Dallas Cowboys fans and our organization to win a championship," Stephen Jones said. "I know Jerry firmly believes it starts with him and then moves right on down through me and Mike and Will and the whole organization."
If anything, maybe that's what this week is about. With a chance to evaluate a chunk of this year's draft class, the Cowboys can start to turn the page and begin the long climb up the mountain once again. For outsiders, that buy-in can come later. But for the Cowboys' decision-makers, the process must start now – painful as it may be.
"It's very disappointing," Stephen Jones said. "But you've got to get back up and go to work again."