ARLINGTON, Texas – Jason Witten shared a hug with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and other teammates in the final offensive huddle of Sunday's season finale at AT&T Stadium.
Was it his final snap?
The future Hall of Fame tight end said he'll "take a few days and figure out what's next" after the Cowboys (8-8) beat Washington 47-16 but were officially eliminated from playoff contention by the Eagles' division-clinching win over the Giants.
"But as I said to you guys a year ago when I retired, to have the opportunity for 16 seasons to put on that helmet and run on that field with the star on your helmet, that's the opportunity of a lifetime," he said.
Clearly emotional during his postgame interview, Witten said "I left everything I had out there" this season, his 16th with the franchise after returning from a one-year retirement spent inside the ESPN Monday Night Football booth.
"I'm so thankful to everybody in the organization, starting with the Jones family, for that opportunity. One of the best decisions I made was listening to my gut to come back and play," he said. "Sure, that decision can be picked apart in different ways, but I'm really proud of the way I played. I love this game. This game has given so much to me."
The 37-year-old Witten started all 16 games with a reduced snap count compared to previous years. He ranked third on the team with 63 catches for 529 yards and 4 touchdowns. He remains one touchdown shy of tying Dez Bryant's franchise record for career receiving scores (73).
But Witten's return to football this year was never about statistics. He has craved the opportunity to play for a Super Bowl ever since the Cowboys drafted him in the third round back in 2003.
That won't happen this season.
"I apologize to the Dallas Cowboys fans out there," he said. "I came back to try to help this football team compete for a championship and we found out today that we won't have that opportunity. And that hurts.
"But it was a heck of a year for me to be able to come back and play this game. I was proud of the way I played all year. It's never perfect. There are always plays that I want to have back. But to be part of this team, be one of the 53 (players) and have an opportunity to compete for a division and have a chance to go to the playoffs, that was something that motivated me every day when I woke up to go to work.
"Those young guys, it was great to work with them every day and be a mentor to them. We came up short, but it's a heck of a group of guys. It's a show-me game. It's a hard game, and we had our opportunities, and unfortunately we didn't get them."
When he returned in the spring, Witten wanted to ensure the younger players on the roster continued their leadership roles. Quarterback and offensive captain Dak Prescott said Witten has "meant everything to me" during their three seasons as teammates.
"Everything as a leader, someone I can look up to on the field, off the field," Prescott said.
Witten has been part of Cowboys teams that had homefield playoff advantage and lost to underdog opponents. He knows all teams need is a chance in the tournament.
That's why Sunday was so disappointing, despite a convincing victory.
"If this is the end, I'm really proud of how I played today and hold my head up high," he said. "But it's never about a catch or 1,200 catches. It's about winning. And to not have that opportunity to hold up a trophy, to bring that to the Jones family, to bring that back to Dallas, it's hard."