After another early playoff exit, ‘stunned’ Cowboys seek offseason answers — yet again


ARLINGTON, Texas — The silence was profound.

As the players walked through the bowels of AT&T Stadium to the locker room, not one member of the Dallas Cowboys said a word. Their 48-32 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card round had finished just a few minutes earlier.

A season full of hope was over. Just like that.

In the locker room, players hugged. Coaches did the same. Dan Quinn, perhaps in his final days as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator with head-coaching interviews upcoming, sat next to a couple of his defensive linemen. Some players took a while to get dressed, sitting almost in disbelief.

Barely three hours earlier, they had the full expectation of playing a divisional round game at home next weekend. Now, they will not be back in their own stadium until next summer for a preseason game.

“Yeah, it’s a shock,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “Damn sure didn’t think this is where we’d be as far as anything I can promise you — myself, this team, this organization — that this would be it.

“Credit to those [Packers] guys. They came out here and handled their business. No disrespect to those guys going in, but that was just the confidence that this group had, and what we’ve done, and damn sure what we’ve done at home. So, yeah, it’ll take a little bit more time to digest it completely to be honest with you. Stunned.”

In the regular season, the Cowboys were 8-0 at AT&T Stadium. They were the only team to go undefeated at home in 2023. But the Packers tore through the defense on their first drive to score a touchdown, aided by two Cowboys penalties. With 1:50 left in the half, Green Bay safety Darnell Savage returned a Prescott interception 64 yards for a touchdown and a 27-0 lead.

At one point, Savage’s return yards were more than Prescott’s passing yards. Receiver CeeDee Lamb, who set team records with 135 receptions and 1,749 yards in the regular season, did not have a catch until the two-minute warning. A Cowboys defense that throttled quarterbacks most of the time in the regular season could do nothing against Jordan Love. In the first half, he completed 13 of 16 passes for 185 yards and one of his three touchdowns. Running back Aaron Jones had run for two of his three touchdowns less than a minute into the second quarter.

“I don’t think anybody saw this coming,” coach Mike McCarthy said.

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones had thought only about a playoff game next week and was caught off guard by the performance. The cameras caught him showing frustration after another Packers touchdown.

The Cowboys fought to win the NFC East for the second time in three years but were aided by the collapse of the Philadelphia Eagles, who slumped from 10-1 to 11-6. With the loss to the Packers, the Cowboys are the first team to win 12 games in three straight seasons and fail to make a conference title game in any of them since the 1970 merger.

“We got everything we wanted in the seed, home field, everything,” Lamb said. “We just didn’t capitalize.”

And now 2023 is just like 2022 and 2021 and every playoff season since 1995.

This time there could be changes, although Jones said he had not given “one second” of thought about McCarthy’s future. The Cowboys have 16 players on their 53-man roster who are set for unrestricted free agency. They want to sign Lamb and potentially linebacker Micah Parsons to contract extensions. They need to figure out a solution to Prescott’s $59.4 million salary cap figure in 2024.

After the Cowboys beat the Washington Commanders to close the regular season, Parsons said it was time to be “phenomenal or be forgotten.”

For all the good the Cowboys did in 2023 — including Prescott’s league-leading 36 touchdown passes and improvements with McCarthy calling plays, Lamb’s production, Parsons’ career-high in sacks (14), DaRon Bland’s league-leading nine interceptions and NFL-record five pick-sixes — none of it mattered.

The Cowboys had nine players named first- or second-team All-Pro.

None of it matters.

“Nope,” Lamb said. “Not at all. Not at all.”

“Seventeen weeks is a season of its own and then you got a four-week season after that,” Lamb said. “So whatever you do in those four weeks, I mean, that’s how you’ll be remembered.”

For the 28th straight time, a Cowboys season ended without a Super Bowl. The names have changed over the years, but the answers remain the same.

How do the Cowboys get to where they want to go in the playoffs?

“I wish I had that answer for you,” Prescott said.

So does McCarthy. So does Jones. So does everybody.

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