As the San Francisco 49ers began celebrating yet another trip to the NFC Championship game, TV cameras filmed a dejected Jerry Jones in his suite at Levi’s Stadium. The Cowboys owner was forced to re-think the playoff disappointment, this time a 19–12 loss on Sunday.
In that moment, Jones looked back at his entire eighty years, looking back and forth, no doubt realizing that the clock was ticking on many levels, especially for this generation of Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott, whose arrival in 2016 generated so much optimism. Instead, the Cowboys keep losing. Jones would later attempt to describe the pain of Sunday’s failure.
“I thought we were right to come here and win this case,” he told reporters. “Honestly, I wouldn’t say I’m surprised. I would say just very disappointed. . . . We didn’t make it. We are sick. Sick. Sick.”
It’s beautiful in Jerry Jones. Even after more than a quarter century of his Cowboys being among the NFL’s best underdogs, Jones still believes his team is the result of another championship. He believes in quarterback Prescott, who slipped on the big stage again. He remains behind head coach Mike McCarthy despite the presence of future Hall of Famer coach Sean Payton. Again and again the American team throws, as it always has.
Since the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the four years between 1992 and 1995, Dallas hasn’t come close. Last week’s victory in Tampa Bay was the fifth playoff win in 27 seasons. This is for a franchise that made the NFC Championship Game feel like it was her birthright. In the 26 seasons from 1970 to 1995, the Cowboys made it there fourteen times.
In 1983, after reaching three consecutive Conference Finals but failing to achieve a single Super Bowl, the late Tex Schramm, then president of the Cowboys, called the team’s postseason results “embarrassing.” The Cowboys have not competed in an NFC title game since 1996; they have since been 0–7 in the divisional round. it embarrassing.
Sunday was the ninth time the Cowboys and 49ers have met in the postseason, tying the Packers and Rams-Cowboys for the most frequent postseason games in the NFL. The series features a number of iconic NFL moments, starting with Dallas’s seventeen-point fourth-quarter comeback in 1972 after Tom Landry sent his backup quarterback Roger Staubach into the game. This was the beginning of an era when NFL Films dubbed the Cowboys “Team America”.
There was the “catch” of San Francisco’s Dwight Clark in 1982 and the Cowboys’ victory in 1993 that led Dallas to its first Super Bowl in the Jones era. “What about those Cowboys?” then-head coach Jimmie Johnson cheered in the locker room. Dallas beat the 49ers the following season as well: Johnson called the radio station two days before the game to guarantee a win.
“Put it in three-inch headlines!” he bellowed.
San Francisco eliminated the Cowboys 23-17 in the first round of last season’s playoffs and came out this weekend to win again. However, in the days leading up to Sunday’s game, Jones expressed optimism that things would be different this time around. He fondly recalled how the Cowboys knocked out the 49ers thirty years ago en route to his first Super Bowl with the team.
Jones said the time reminded him of that season with a team that seemed to have few weak points other than the suddenly wobbly kicker Brett Maher. “I don’t think I can dream of anything bigger than Sunday,” Jones told 105.3 FM The Fan in Dallas. “Is it so important”.
After a second consecutive 12-5 regular season, these Cowboys — with their playmakers spread across the roster — could be the franchise’s best team in a quarter of a century. And they were close to winning—close enough that things got a little more painful.
Jones was again let down by quarterback Duck Prescott, who threw one touchdown in ten possessions and threw a pair of early interceptions that led to six of San Francisco’s nine first-half points. He had a potential third interception lost in the final minutes as the Cowboys tried to frantically rally in the fourth quarter to tie the game. He hasn’t won in three division round games. This year, Prescott tied with Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills for the most steals in the regular season, despite the Dallas signalman missing five games with a hand injury.
“I can’t put the team in that kind of danger,” Prescott said Sunday. “The defense gave us the opportunity to win the game, they did a great job against a good offense. It’s unacceptable for us to stage what we’ve done, and that starts with me.” When asked about interceptions, he said: “The number [seventeen in fourteen games, including the play-offs] funny. I can promise he will never get that tall again. Promise.”
Prescott entered the weekend as the most experienced quarterback remaining in the playoffs, but his 63.6 passer rating was the second highest in the group, behind only the New York Giants’ Daniel Jones. “I thought this team, with Duck as the quarterback, thought we had a chance to get to the top level in this tournament,” Jones said. “I really knew.
Defensively, Dallas excelled Sunday, throwing one of the best offenses in the NFL with four field goals and one touchdown. But former San Francisco third quarterback Brock Purdy of Iowa State, the 262nd and final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, outmaneuvered Prescott.
The Cowboys received eight penalties in addition to two losses. They only converted five of their fifteen games with a third down, and after Tony Pollard was injured in the first half, Dallas almost gave up control of the ball. This is where Jones paid the price for his decision to let wide receiver Amari Cooper walk away through free agency after last season. CeeDee Lamb was great at catching ten balls, but Prescott needed another option.
He had a 74-yard touchdown in Dallas’ third possession, finding tight end Dalton Schultz with a four-yard touchdown pass. But the good mood from the 6–3 lead lasted for about two minutes, until Maher ran onto the field and blocked another misguided extra shot. Prior to that, he missed five of six, including four in the victory over Tampa. The kicker’s end-of-season crash was so remarkable that even Texas Gov. Greg Abbott joined the chorus of criticism on social media.
Where do the Cowboys go from here? Jones appears reluctant to fire McCarthy despite Payton’s availability. Jones knows Payton well from his days as an assistant coach in Dallas under Bill Parcells, but Payton would certainly like to have more control over team decisions than Jones is likely to offer.
Prescott will be thirty by the start of next season. He led one of the NFL’s best offenses in the last two seasons, but Dallas quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach are judged by their playoff success. Prescott led the Cowboys to four playoff games but only two wins in six seasons. It’s not that bad, considering the Cowboys won three playoff games in twenty seasons prior to his arrival. Get ready for a week of heated talk about his future on Dallas Talk Radio.
As for Jones, his 34 years as owner of the Cowboys has been remarkable. He showed his business genius time and time again as he competed in those three early championships and built the most powerful brand in North American professional sports. Only the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Lakers, even in conversation with the Cowboys. The franchise, which Jones bought for $150 million in 1989, is now worth about $8 billion. Some of this is a by-product of the ever-increasing cost of NFL television rights. But in many ways it’s Jerry who realized that this uniform and this star on the helmet represent something unique in the hearts and minds of fans across the country. Hate them or love them, we can’t leave them.
NFL games accounted for 82 of the top 100 TV shows in 2022, breaking the previous record of 75 in 2021, according to data compiled by Sportico. And no team turns ratings into gold like the Cowboys, who have played in four of 2022. Five highest-rated NFL season games, including a Thanksgiving Day contest against the Giants, which drew 42.1 million viewers and became the most watched regular season game in NFL history.
Despite numerous scandals over the years, the Cowboys “America’s Team” brand has remained remarkably resilient. Last year, a team leader was fired for filming cheerleaders in the locker room. Jones was accused of fathering an illegitimate child. And there was a plethora of rude behavior detailed in Texas Monthlydallas Cowboys Cheerleaders podcast, american girls.
However, in preparation for Sunday’s game, Jones seemed more confident than ever that he finally had a team that could get over the hump and get back to talking about the Super Bowl. Instead, fans in Dallas received a familiar tale of unfulfilled expectations. For this season’s supposed silver lining, consider that the Cowboys done reach the playoffs in a row for the first time since 2007, and that’s what McCarthy was trying to sell.
“In fact, we have taken another step towards our goal,” he said after the defeat. “I thought we were a better team than last year. . . . Obviously just extremely disappointed. It was an incredible journey with this group of men. We just missed a very good football team tonight.”