ARLINGTON, Texas — The Cowboys didn’t come away with a win, but they did prove something to owner Jerry Jones.
“I thought we were a team that was capable of taking this thing all the way,” Jones said after a 34-31 home loss to the Packers in Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff round. “I know we are now after that second half.”
The Cowboys erased a 21-3 deficit, tying the score at 28 with 4:08 remaining. Had they been able to win, it would have matched the franchise’s largest comeback in postseason history (they erased an 18-point deficit against the 49ers in 1972).
The Cowboys never were able to get a lead after their brief 3-0 advantage in the first quarter, though, which made the result so frustrating and left the owner with an odd mix of disappointment and optimism.
With rookies at quarterback and running back, Dallas seems poised to return to this position — or possibly further — for years to come. That separated this loss from the last time the Cowboys had the top seed, in the 2007 season, when they lost to the Giants.
“The difference is when I look at what’s ahead for us and the valiant way we played to get it to be as competitive as it turned out in the end,” Jones said, “I think we have a better short-term future than what happened in the ensuing years after ’07.”
The Packers agreed. “I think this is just the beginning for the Cowboys,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “They’ll have more battles like this.”
Dallas was left to mull some missed opportunities and questionable calls. The Packers’ go-ahead field goal with 1:33 left was set up by a pass-interference call.
The Cowboys also were flagged for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty of 15 yards in the first half for having Brice Butler enter the huddle and leave without participating in the play.
“I’ve never seen that called before,” coach Jason Garrett said.
The Cowboys also did themselves in a few times, choosing to spike the ball with 48 seconds left after picking up a first down at Green Bay’s 40 even though they still had one timeout left. Rodgers got the ball back with 35 seconds left after Dallas kicked the tying field goal.
Also, Dallas turned to the pass instead of the NFL’s leading rusher, rookie Ezekiel Elliott, in some short-yardage situations. “I think you could revisit it,” Jones said of the lack of running plays in the first three quarters.
Dak Prescott completed 24 of 38 passes for 302 yards and three TDs. He also threw one interception, after which Garrett was seen clapping on the sideline and encouraging the young face of the franchise. “He was fantastic,” Garrett said.
Jones acknowledged that there are no moral victories in the playoffs and said the locker room featured “complete disappointment by every person involved.” But amid that heartbreak was a glimmer of hope.
“I hadn’t seen those sets of circumstances this year,” he said of the comeback element of the game. “I saw them play to that. Now that we’ve seen that . . . we now know we were capable of taking it all the way, too.”
They’ll just have to wait until next year for another chance.
DROUGHT IN BIG ‘D’
The Cowboys have lost five straight times in the divisional round and haven’t reached the NFC Championship Game since their 1995 Super Bowl season.
2016 Packers 34, COWBOYS 31
2014 PACKERS 26, Cowboys 21
2009 VIKINGS 34, Cowboys 3
2007 Giants 21, COWBOYS 17
1996 PANTHERS 26, Cowboys 17
Home team in CAPS