The outside heat might be off the Cowboys for the first time in decades. They made a playoff run. They showed they can compete at the highest levels of the sport in the biggest moments. They were, as Giants linebacker Jon Beason recalled, "one play from who knows what" against the Packers in the divisional round when Dez Bryant landed in that grayness between catch and no catch near the goal line at Lambeau Field.
Externally there was disappointment at the call, but also a sigh of relief for a team that hadn't won a postseason game in a generation and a quarterback who had developed a reputation for coming up small in big moments.
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All of that seemed resolved. Albatrosses be gone!
Internally, though, it wasn't enough.
"When you don't win the Super Bowl, it's never as good a year compared to the one team that does," Tony Romo said. "For us, there's a bitter taste. It doesn't feel like, 'Hey, [the playoffs were] a happy-go-lucky kind of moment.' It just feels like you let one slip away, and I feel like our team is very anxious to get back out on the football field."
They will Sunday night against the Giants.
Expectations are high for the Cowboys, even if the pressure of having to answer playoff questions every August may have subsided.
Sure, the season ended in controversy. While the Giants and Odell Beckham Jr. got to watch "The Catch" all offseason, the Cowboys had to dwell on "The Non-Catch." But at least Dallas' play happened in January, a time when the Giants' season was long over.
Besides, the Cowboys themselves weren't that upset over the call.
"I think a lot of people outside our organization talked about it for a while, but really we put that thing to bed not 12 hours after that game," coach Jason Garrett said. "We had 56 minutes before that play and four minutes after that play to win the game and we didn't get the job done. Any other explanation or any other way of looking at it is preventing us from improving as players, coaches and a football team. I think our players understood that. We put that behind us and focused on what's ahead of us ever since."
Ahead is the 2015 season. Cowboys fans want more -- even if the clamoring isn't as intense -- but Romo said he's not interested in any kind of bars or standards that the rest of the world has set for his team.
"There's always expectations for every football team before the season starts," he said. "What happens then is you either meet or exceed those expectations or you're below them. It doesn't matter. If you're supposed to be really good and then you go 8-8 or 9-7, it's really not a success. If you're not supposed to be really good, all of a sudden it's a huge success. So you try to get rid of those as an athlete and a football player."
And focus on one goal.
"It really has nothing to do with the expectations or anybody outside the locker room," Romo said. "I just figure if you haven't won the Super Bowl the year before, then you probably didn't finish the season the way you wanted to."