ARLINGTON, Texas — As has become the annual ritual that often marks the end of a disappointing season for the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones pulled out his thesaurus. If only to channel a singular message to his fan base one more time, a repetitive plea along the lines of: Hey, I’m just like you. I can’t believe it, either.
There he stood, reaching deep into his bag of words following the Cowboys’ stunning, 48-32 home loss to a significantly less talented and monumentally less experienced Green Bay Packers team. Cloaked in arguably the most inexplicable failure in the history of Dallas playoff teams — and having squandered a roster as talented as some of his 1990s Super Bowl winners — Jones channeled seemingly every emotion except the one that matters to the team's fans right now.
For those scoring Sunday night, Jerry was amazed, floored, beyond comprehension, pained, surprised — but also without any thoughts about the players, the coaching, the bigger picture, the timeline or, apparently, the cyclical underachievement that has become the Cowboys' trademark for nearly three decades.
“I certainly in no way spent any time over the last three hours asking how and why,” Jones said of his team’s latest postseason implosion. “What I’m zeroed in on is the fact that I thought we were in position — everyone in this room thought we were in a position — to advance this thing in the playoffs and maybe [go] as far as our dreams might take us. We didn’t do it. … This is one of my [biggest] surprises since I’ve been involved in sport, period.
“On a personal basis, I’m floored,” Jones continued. “Not that there’s any world’s smallest violin for me being floored. I get that. I understand that. I know where the responsibility starts and ends. I’ve got that real clear.”
The emotion Jones didn’t relay? Feeling resolute in the midst of catastrophe — about anything.
He was not resolute about his coaching staff. Not resolute about his players. Not resolute about anything except making sure fans knew he was disappointed, too. Which doesn’t really amount to much.
Stop for a moment and contemplate what just happened to the Cowboys. They fielded their best and healthiest playoff team in decades. With a quarterback who will likely finish second in the league’s MVP voting and nine All-Pros across the depth chart, which is more than any other franchise in the NFL. They brought a deep and experienced roster of coaches to the table, including an elite defensive coordinator in Dan Quinn, who went into Sunday as a candidate for multiple head-coaching openings this offseason. To top it off, they boasted a home-field dominance unlike any other in the NFL, with a league-high 16 straight wins at AT&T Stadium. Rightfully, everyone in Dallas should've had the championship attitude of “If not this team, who? And if not this year, when?”
The answers? “Some other team” and “who the hell knows.”
It's no different an outcome than in any of the three Mike McCarthy seasons before this one or the Jason Garrett years before that — or Wade Phillips, Bill Parcells, Dave Campo and Chan Gailey. None of those guys got any real traction in the postseason. And not a single one even sniffed an NFC championship game.
But none of them oversaw a roster this loaded, in a season in which most of the NFC foes had vulnerabilities across the board. And certainly not a single one had a team this talented lose to a Green Bay franchise that was just happy to be there — loaded with young players and an inexperienced quarterback in Jordan Love, still learning how to win big games.
Yet for more than three quarters, the Packers summoned a multitude of questions about the future in Dallas.
Where did the MVP-caliber Dak Prescott go for three quarters? The one who is in line for a record-setting contract extension this offseason? Despite the most flawless season of his career, Prescott looked jittery much of the night, throwing two interceptions and missing a handful of passes that looked like timing issues rather than pure coverage. He threw balls late. He sailed others or lobbed them into empty space. Several times, he tried to fit passes into low-percentage windows.
To be fair, prior to his ankle injury, Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander did a masterful job limiting explosive plays from Cowboys wideout CeeDee Lamb, but Prescott and McCarthy never adjusted to take advantage of other matchups. The offense went from conservative to open the game, to short to intermediate when it was getting out of control, to desperately wide open down the stretch.
And the defense? The high-octane, chaos-creating, opportunity-seizing unit? It got run over against the run yet again, to the tune of 143 rushing yards, but it also posted a double zero where it counted: zero sacks and zero turnovers. This is all while Love navigated the pocket comfortably, created off-script when he had to and finished with a near-perfect quarterback rating of 157.2 to go with his 272 passing yards and three touchdowns. Cowboys edge rusher Micah Parsons, who entered the game in line for a contract extension that would make him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, finished with two tackles and was a virtual ghost much of the night.
It was a definitive ending delivered in a spanking that was much worse than the final score and over long before the fourth quarter. And it all culminated in a wincing stat: Dallas is the first No. 2 seed to lose to a No. 7 seed since the playoff field was expanded in 2020. Despite that, Jones appeared oddly unresolved about everything on Sunday — apart from scheduling exit interviews with his players on Monday.
So now begins McCarthy watch, which will be stalked by the names of Bill Belichick and Mike Vrabel and others. And the focus should now be reversed, thinking less about the litany of reasons McCarthy should be fired and more about the diminishing reasons he should be kept. Parsons’ extension will be debated, too, at least as far as his quest to be the highest-paid defender in the NFL. And Prescott, well, it will once again be open season when it comes to his ability to get Dallas over the hump. If McCarthy is scrutinized after this one, Prescott will be, too. And he seems fine with that.
“I don’t know how there can be [speculation about McCarthy], but I understand the business,” Prescott said Sunday. “In that case, it should be about me as well. Honestly. I mean, that guy, I’ve had the season that I’ve had because of him. This team’s had the success that they’ve had because of him. I understand it’s about winning the Super Bowl. That’s the standard of the league, and damn sure the standard of this place. So I get it, but add me to the list in that case.”
The critics surely will. Some of the fans will, too. Because he’s right. The standard is the standard. And the one-and-done nature of this outcome, when the Cowboys had every advantage going their way, is crushing in a way that can’t truly be described.
No matter how many words Jerry Jones throws at it.