NEW ORLEANS -- Jeremy Mincey was the last player to make the long walk across the Mercedes-Benz Superdome field. It was a slow walk with a slight lean as he carried his travel bags and the weight of the Dallas Cowboys' loss.
It wasn't that the Cowboys lost 26-20 to the New Orleans Saints in overtime. It was how they lost, so gut-wrenching.
From the highs of Brandon Weeden's 17-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams with 1 minute, 51 seconds to play, to the lows of seeing the Saints put them in position for a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation, to the highs again when Zach Hocker's 30-yard attempt hit the left upright.
“We got a little bit of energy over there,” Weeden said. “We kind of thought, 'Maybe this is the break we needed.' In the end it wasn't.”
That's because the lows reached their depths just two plays into overtime when C.J. Spiller ran away from rookie linebacker Damien Wilson and through Barry Church for an 80-yard touchdown catch from Drew Brees to win the game.
As Mincey walked to the team buses, he practically retraced the steps Spiller ran about an hour earlier.
“That was a tough loss, man,” Mincey said. “They just out-executed us. No excuses for anything. That's just what happened. They out-executed us. When it was our time to step up to the plate we fell short. Didn't make a play we're supposed to make.”
The Cowboys' defense lost Sean Lee in the first quarter to a concussion. On the play before Spiller's touchdown, they lost Andrew Gachkar, who was playing with a sore foot. Wilson saw the most extensive action of his young career and found himself chasing Spiller.
“It was a vintage Sean Payton play,” Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said.
And now the Cowboys are left trying to rebound from their second straight loss while knowing the New England Patriots are visiting AT&T Stadium next week. The undefeated Patriots are coming off their bye and are as healthy as can be.
The Cowboys won't have Tony Romo or Dez Bryant. They lost Lance Dunbar almost certainly for the season with a knee injury against the Saints. They likely won't have Randy Gregory either. Depending on how he fares with the protocol, they could be without Lee. They will welcome Greg Hardy and Rolando McClain to the lineup for the first time this season now that their four-game suspensions are over.
“When you lose your two franchise players like Tony and Dez, it's tough, but that's what happens in this league,” tight end Jason Witten said. “You've got to be able to regroup.”
The question is how. And when. And can they do it enough times to make the returns of Romo and Bryant matter to a season that is at a crossroads after four games. The Cowboys' two-game winning streak to open the season is a distant memory right now.
After losing halftime leads against the Atlanta Falcons (28-17) and Saints (10-7), the search for the next win on the schedule is as difficult as the search for healthy players on the roster, mentally and emotionally.
As Mincey ducked into the tunnel and up the ramp to the team bus, he simply shook his head in disgust.
“You've got no choice [but to bounce back],” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. “That's our job. Even though you don't want to or not, you have to because that's the only way. We've got another game next week.
“It's a long season. Our destiny isn't written yet. We've just got to put this one behind us and find a way. We've got a lot of guys injured, but they're going to be out and injured next week too. And the guys in the locker room, we're going to have to find a way to get it done.”