SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Jerry Jones strolled down the Levi’s Stadium tunnel in his darkish overcoat, a hitch in the 80-year-old’s step and a sniffle in his voice.
Yet once more, the Dallas Cowboys superior to the divisional spherical of the NFL playoffs. Yet once more, the staff proprietor and basic supervisor was leaving a stadium questioning if he’ll dwell to see his staff trip a deep postseason run once more.
Seven occasions the Cowboys have superior to the divisional spherical since their final Super Bowl title, 27 years in the past. Seven occasions in that span, they’ve misplaced it. Sunday’s 19-12 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was simply the latest instance.
“Sickening,” Jones advised a gaggle of media exterior the visiting locker room, the phrase “sick” recurring six extra occasions in a 2-minute span of Jones’ remarks.
Players in his locker room had been sick, Jones mentioned, an assertion seemingly confirmed by their tears, towel-covered faces and distant stares.
“Hundreds of hundreds of Cowboys followers,” Jones continued, had been sick — a sentiment Twitter mentions confirmed in spades.
Head coach Mike McCarthy was sick with disappointment. Cowboys security Jayron Kearse, too, gradual to go away the sideline bench postgame as he struggled to course of a season immediately snapped, what he felt was a winnable sport assuredly misplaced.
“It hurts,” quarterback Dak Prescott mentioned. “All I can take into consideration proper now could be this sport and how upset I’m at this level in my play. How upset I’m for the guys in the locker room who performed their asses off and we weren’t capable of get it performed.”
The clamor surrounding McCarthy and Prescott’s health for his or her respective jobs unsurprisingly grew louder, as Groundhog Day-like disappointment in the divisional spherical resurfaced.
Jones felt it. Until, for a couple of moments by the staff’s buses, he transcended it.
Dak Prescott: ‘I’ve received to be higher’
The sport’s ending was “eerie” in its similarity to final season’s playoff loss, Jones advised a handful of reporters as he strode towards the buses. This Cowboys exit got here on the highway in the divisional spherical; final yr’s unfolded at house on wild-card weekend.
But for 2 straight years now, the 49ers have eradicated the Cowboys from the playoffs. Each yr, the Cowboys regained the ball in the closing couple of minutes, down a landing and hoping to capitalize on an opportunity to attain.
They did not.
The sport was an old style “slugfest,” the 49ers notching the sport’s preliminary rating on a first-quarter area objective, the Cowboys reaching the finish zone to take their lone lead in the second quarter.
At the shut of the third quarter, the pair of stingy pass-rush groups had been tied at 9 factors. Then the 49ers rose to the event, whereas the Cowboys faltered.
Jones knew that questions would swirl about his religion in McCarthy and Prescott.
Is his teaching workers maximizing a gifted roster’s potential, managing the sport sufficiently, delivering the mandatory juice to propel this franchise to the playoff heights McCarthy was employed to achieve? Or did one other familiarly timed exit change Jones’ thoughts about his third-year head coach six days after the staff proprietor mentioned he was “offered”?
“No, no, under no circumstances,” Jones mentioned, endorsing McCarthy. “But that is very sickening.”
The questions had been apparent with Prescott as he threw two extra first-half interceptions, the distinction in a sport during which the Cowboys felt their lone clear benefit was at quarterback vs. seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy.
But with 5:55 to play in the first quarter, Prescott dropped again and squared his physique for a throw. Then he reset his toes and thought-about whether or not he had a chance. Receiver Michael Gallup stopped in his tracks, pondering Prescott was able to scramble to increase the play and hopefully enable his downfield targets to loosen from defenders. Instead, Prescott fired.
Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir jumped for the interception and returned it to the Cowboys’ 21.
“I broke on the route and I actually did not assume he was going to throw it,” Lenoir mentioned. “I assumed it was about to be the scramble drill, however then once I seemed again, the ball was coming and my hyena senses simply kicked in.”
The Cowboys’ protection stifled San Francisco’s progress, besides the brief area begin arrange a straightforward 26-yard area objective.
The Cowboys’ subsequent giveaway got here in the closing 90 seconds of the second quarter, Prescott aiming to finish a low go to extensive receiver CeeDee Lamb in site visitors. Instead, the ball hit cornerback Jimmie Ward’s chest and bounced into the instinctive arms of linebacker Fred Warner. The 49ers added a go-ahead area objective as the half wrapped to make it 9-6.
“Just two throws that I can not have, you’ll be able to’t have in the playoffs,” mentioned Prescott, who accomplished the sport 23-of-37 for 206 yards, a landing and two interceptions along with 22 speeding yards on 4 carries. “You cannot have them if you’re attempting to beat a staff like that. You cannot have it on the highway. There are not any excuses for that. Those two are one hundred pc on me.
“I’ve received to be higher. There’s no different approach to sugarcoat it.”
Jones agreed that “turnovers had been going to make the distinction” and finally “settled the rating” in a matchup between a pair of gifted groups that featured extra talent depth for the house staff and a extra skilled quarterback for the guests.
This wasn’t a brand new concern both, for Prescott, who collected a league-worst 15 regular-season picks in simply 12 video games. The tempo was uncharacteristic relative to the quarterback’s first six seasons, his interception charge leaping from 1.7% by means of six years to three.8% in Year 7.
Some giveaways resembled flukes with the balls, bounces that different quarterbacks would possibly see fall to the floor seemingly touchdown in opponents’ arms after a tip, the Cowboys felt. Prescott made no errors in a spectacular wild-card spherical during which he accounted for 5 complete touchdowns towards the Tampa Bay Bucs.
But sooner or later, an interception is an interception. Debate who learn or misinterpret the protection or the possibility route or the play name, however the result’s no completely different. The subsequent decision-making wanted to mirror that. Prescott knew that and mentioned he’ll study the development carefully this offseason. Jones insisted his confidence in his quarterback is “simply as sturdy as ever,” now and “for the future.”
Neither the interceptions, nor the sport’s two closing and fruitless drives, modified that.
“I’ll line up there 5 occasions with an analogous state of affairs and if we have him at quarterback, I’ll take my probabilities,” Jones mentioned. “We’ll come out of right here with one thing good out of this. That’s an edge.
“Tonight did not change my thoughts about the edge with him.”
Jerry Jones opens up on Cowboys’ playoff futility
In all, as fireworks illuminated the Santa Clara evening behind him and a not-certainly-sober San Francisco fan screamed “LET’S GOOOOO NIIIINERS” from a ramp overlooking Jones, the staff proprietor appeared conflicted.
He was annoyed, upset, sickened by his staff’s most up-to-date efficiency. But additionally: He was enthusiastic about the Cowboys’ future, assured in his quarterback and head coach, and even perhaps wistful about the many years during which followers see futility however Jones sees a phenomenal journey.
Responding to a query from Yahoo Sports about his concern that point is waning on his likelihood to expertise postseason success with the Cowboys, Jones took a step again. His blue eyes sparkled, his vigor strengthened.
“I look out at my life at loads of the lacking faces that are not doing something, they’re gone; or the lacking faces which might be doing one thing,” he mentioned, “however they are not in the NFL — I’m thrilled to have this face in the NFL.
“I’m blessed. And I’m upset as I may be. But I’m on no account taking an opportunity on complaining about getting the likelihood to do that. I imply that.
In a zero-sum sport during which 31 of 32 groups full every season with a loss and diploma of disappointment, Jones didn’t imply to attenuate the ache that he or his gamers or his coaches felt.
But he noticed the substances for a close to playoff run in the stifling protection that restricted the 49ers’ sometimes potent assault, in the offense that made a handful of performs even after explosive operating again Tony Pollard suffered a reported damaged leg and sprained ankle in the second quarter, and even in the particular groups that contributed a takeaway and two area objectives regardless of kicker Brett Maher’s latest missed extra-point try (this one was blocked).
“As far as I’m involved, the sport simply wasn’t lengthy sufficient, if you have a look at it,” Jones mentioned, referring to the divisional spherical with context that maybe additionally appeared apropos for his advancing age. “I’m upset. But [next year]I want to be proper again right here with the identical hand, the identical alternative, with Dak as the quarterback, and go get it.
“They had been the higher staff, however we received some good issues occurring. Consequently, tonight they gained it. But in my thoughts, I’d moderately are available right here with a Dak.”
Follow Yahoo Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein