ARLINGTON, Texas — As the referees sprinted up the tunnel and distraught fans launched full bottles and cans of $10 beer onto the turf, the Dallas Cowboys looked around in hopes there would be one more play to keep their season alive.
There wasn't one. And they only have themselves to blame.
The Cowboys' season ended on a 17-yard scramble by quarterback Dak Prescott.
His second longest run of the year kept the clock running and the Cowboys, despite their efforts, were unable to spike the ball in time to take one shot at the end zone.
“Made the call knowing that we’re gonna get some yards, get down and clock it," Prescott explained. "That’s something we’ve practiced over and over again. When I got behind [center] Tyler [Biadasz], saw there was :04 left, then I got hit from behind [by the official].”
The official remarked the football. By the time he moved out of the way to snap it, time ran out.
Head referee Alex Kemp waved his arms above his head as he asserted, "The game is over."
"Have never seen that come down the way it came down, in terms of the collision between the umpire & the quarterback," described Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy after the game. "I was told they were reviewing it, and that they were going to put time back on the clock. And the next thing I know, they’re running off the field.”
Prescott's decision to run -- instead of passing or getting out of bounds -- was the cherry on top of a blunder-filled afternoon at AT&T Stadium, as the visiting San Francisco 49ers escaped with a 23-17 win on NFL's Wild Card Weekend.
"Extraordinarily disappointed, very disappointed," expressed Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. "This is quite a letdown.”
Prescott threw for a touchdown and ran for another, but his lone interception turned into seven points for the Niners, which ultimately proved to be the difference.
The six-year starter falls to 1-3 in the postseason, as Dallas has now lost 11 of its last 15 playoff games.
The Cowboys' $160-million quarterback was not the only one at fault for the team's demise.
“The penalties just killed us down the stretch," noted rookie linebacker Micah Parsons.
Dallas was penalized 14 times including a phantom delay of game after converting a fake punt pass for a first down.
That was the story of the game for Dallas. One step forward, two steps back.
“Self-inflicted errors," Prescott said postgame. "We stopped ourselves. This is playoff football, and when you’re hurting yourself and getting behind the chains, it’s tough.”
Receivers dropped the ball. Linemen held defenders. Defensive backs were in constant miscommunication.
It was not the performance one would expect from a 12-5 football team.
"It is disappointing," said running back Ezekiel Elliott. "Best team I've been on. All of us hurting. Just got to rally around each other and start thinking about next year."
Next season feels like an eternity away as questions begin to mount in regards to the coaching staff.
Will Cowboys coordinators Dan Quinn and Kellen Moore get hired elsewhere as a head coach?
Will Jerry stick with Mike McCarthy at head coach, if it means losing Quinn or Moore?
"I don't have any concerns," McCarthy replied, when asked about the future. "I'm proud to be standing here today. I'm proud of this football team."
The Cowboys had a good season.
But, it wasn't good enough.