Normally a fountain of postgame positivity, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones could only survey the debris of a lost season Sunday night.
“The game was sobering,” Jones confessed.
It was a strong assessment from a man who used to know how to throw a Super Bowl party.
With his team’s playoff hopes already reeling Sunday, Jones watched the Green Bay Packers deliver a 28-7 haymaker to the Cowboys’ fragile chins.
The Packers scored late twice against a tired Cowboys defense. The day’s most revealing lesson, however, was delivered bluntly and in short order.
“We need everything to go just right for us to beat a team like this here with [Aaron] Rodgers doing his thing,” Owner Jones said. “But we didn’t have it.”
Putting their November swoon behind them, the Packers lifted their season record to 9-4 and appear to be headed to the NFL playoffs.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, lost for the ninth time in 11 games, dropping their record to 4-9 and assuring them of a losing season.
None of the Cowboys’ four victories have come against a team with a winning record. Jones’ team has beaten three NFC East teams and 5-7 Miami.
That thin ledger speaks volumes about the way the Cowboys have played, both with and without injured quarterback Tony Romo.
The day began promisingly enough, with running back Darren McFadden dashing 50 yards to the Green Bay 12-yard line on the Cowboys’ first possession.
But with the ball at the 3, Matt Cassel’s third-down pass sailed high to receiver Dez Bryant and was deflected into the hands of defender Sam Shields. The Cowboys would reach the Green Bay 10-yard line only once more the entire day.
“We had the opportunity to really do something to lift us up,” Jones said, “and it took a little air out of us to have the big play in the first quarter and then not get it in. All of those things contributed.
“These teams, teams like Green Bay, they’re going to another level as they get near the playoffs.”
All available evidence, meanwhile, suggests that the Cowboys have reached theirs.
From distant media observation points, it’s easy to point to Romo’s absence as the primary reason for the season’s implosion. But be careful with that assessment, Jones said Sunday.
Jones was the one, he reminded, who didn’t have a winning replacement for Romo on hand. Fill-in Cassel completed only 13 of 29 passes for 114 yards Sunday.
In the bright sun of summer, Jones was convinced that he had a Super Bowl contender.
With Romo, I asked Jones, did he still feel the Cowboys were as good as the Packers, Panthers, Cardinals, et al?
“I don’t have the heart to put us with those clubs right now,” Jerry replied, “because we’ve got more work to do than just getting Romo healthy.
“And I’m not just saying that to be magnanimous here for everybody. I want you to know there are some things that we have to do better.”
The closest thing to criticism was directed at his offensive line.
“I’m proud of the talent we’ve got there,” Jones said, “but obviously you can have a talented, healthy offensive line and you can still win only four ball games with three to go.”
When asked if he would comment about Bryant’s ineffective day — one catch for 9 yards — Owner Jones replied, “No, and I won’t talk about it in general other than none of us were proud of how this thing has ended up here.”
The rainy afternoon clearly had taken its toll. Jerry routinely sees sunshine, even on the cloudiest of NFL days.
But with a convincing defeat to a legitimate playoff foe had come a sobering reality Sunday at Lambeau Field:
It wasn’t all about missing Tony Romo. At 4-9 and last place in the lowly NFC East, the 2015 Cowboys have made themselves at home.