IRVING -- Doug Free tossed his belongings in a trash bag and then made like Santa Claus and slung it over his shoulder as he left the locker room Monday afternoon.
Ernie Sims hugged John Phillips, knowing it might be for the last time. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin were among those players seeking treatment in the training room.
It was same time, last year.
For the second year in a row, the Dallas Cowboys' season ended in the last regular-season game. They lost to the Washington Redskins 28-18 in a winner-take-all NFC East showdown.
"It's a bad feeling to have this feeling again," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "In the end, although the foundation was laid, and guys did a great job and that was a great year in a lot of ways, it's got to turn the corner. The only way you can do that is by getting better and executing those plays and those situations. When you don't do a good enough job, then it is the same old story, and that's why we're in this situation.
"It doesn't change the way you approach it, and the expectations will be high and we'll have to go prove it. We're not expecting anything different. You've just got to stomach it up and be better because of it. That's the only way you can get to the top. I think all good players, all good teams when they do get there, they think back to those opportunities and what they learned from it to make them a better team, I think that's what we'll do collectively."
It is an Unhappy New Year for the Cowboys.
They had hoped to be hosting the Seattle Seahawks in a wild-card playoff game at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Instead, they'll be watching the Redskins play the Seahawks.
Tony Romo threw three interceptions, the last the killer after Dallas had pulled to within 21-18 late in the fourth quarter. Injuries and mistakes finally did in the Cowboys' playoff hopes after they had won five of six to climb out of the hole of a 3-5 start.
"We have to do a better job finishing," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "I thought this year we did a really good job finishing games, better than we've done in the past. But we didn't do a better job last night. We didn't do a good enough job finishing this season, the job we needed to do to get to where we want to go.
"But we have to understand there's history and precedent in these kinds of situations as you're trying to put a program together. You're going to get knocked back. You're not always going to achieve it in Year 1 or Year 2, but keep doing the things the right way, and you will break through."
The Cowboys finished sixth in total offense and 19th in total defense. Romo tied with Drew Brees for the league lead in interceptions with 19 as the Cowboys tied for 27th in turnover margin at minus-13.
Though Romo is 1-for-6 in win-or-go-home games now, Garrett said he still believes in his quarterback. Romo's contract expires after the 2013 season, and the Cowboys hope to sign him to a long-term deal this off-season to avoid the $16.8 million cap figure Romo currently has for next season.
"We have great belief of Tony Romo as our quarterback," Garrett said. "Tony has won a lot of big games for us to get us to the point where we can play for the division in Week 17 in consecutive years. We all know that we want to take the next step, and Tony is going to be a big part of that going forward.
"I think you have to understand the whole body of work. I think you have to understand that winning is where we get evaluated. He's done a lot of great things for this franchise. We're excited about him being our quarterback."
Now that it's 2013, the Cowboys have a clear resolution: Being this year's NFC East champions.