The sun came up over The Star on Monday, a day after the Cowboys’ season-ending 34-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers. But gloomy would best describe the mood inside the locker room.
“It’s sinking in. It sucks. It stinks,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said Monday. “But it was fun; it was a great year. Great teammates, great coaches. The reality of it, though, is we all won’t be back together. That’s what team meeting was about. We know it’s the business of this league. It’s part of it. But yeah, it sucks.”
Coach Jason Garrett and team owner Jerry Jones addressed the Cowboys in their team meeting Monday afternoon. Their message was to look forward.
“The biggest thing you have to do is learn from your experiences and you have to allow the disappointments to fuel the fire for what you want to accomplish in 2017,” Garrett said.
Indeed the future looks bright with a core that includes rookies Ezekiel Elliott, Prescott, Anthony Brown and Maliek Collins. But the Cowboys have 18 unrestricted free agents, including Terrance Williams, Ron Leary, Brandon Carr, Barry Church and Morris Claiborne.
Many Cowboys players placed their personal belongings into garbage bags before walking out, some for the final time.
“It was a missed opportunity,” Prescott said. “It’s obviously one because this team won’t be back together, not the same team, not the same exact men and players won’t be back together. But for the people that will for this organization, the youth in this team, it’s a building block. We’re going to get better from it. It’s going to make us better. We’ll make plenty more runs.”
In the most-watched divisional-round game in history, the Cowboys fell behind the Packers 21-3 and 28-13 before rallying with 18 points in the fourth quarter. Both teams scored twice in the final 4:08, with Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal on the final play allowing the Packers to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
“It’s tough, because it’s like every season feels like a chapter,” said Cowboys defensive lineman Jack Crawford, who becomes a free agent. “You go through another chapter in your career. The more you go through it, you realize the less time you have left. I look at people like [Jason] Witten who’s put in so much to this game. Just so much. You look at him and think about the way we were going and the chemistry we had in the locker room. It’s like I want to win for people like him, to have the opportunity to play with him and then to get this far. To have it stop like this is heartbreaking. But that’s football. You’ve got to keep grinding. You get a lot more out of the losses than you do the victories. You get an opportunity to learn and grow and keep moving forward.”