PHILADELPHIA -- Jerry Jones has never experienced a season like this since he bought the Dallas Cowboys in 1989.
Not when the Cowboys were winning three Super Bowls and dominating the 1990s. Not when the Cowboys suffered through three consecutive five-win seasons from 2000 to '02. And not when they went 8-8 each season from 2011 to '13.
This season was as improbable as it gets because the Cowboys lost Tony Romo, their starting quarterback for the past decade, during the preseason and accidentally found his replacement with the 135th pick of the fourth round.
Quarterback Dak Prescott played so well, leading the Cowboys to the NFC's best record, that Romo couldn’t get his job back.
The Cowboys went against conventional wisdom and selected running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth pick in the draft. All he did was lead the NFL in rushing yards (1,631) and carries (322).
Add a defense that played significantly better than anyone not employed by the team figured it would, and it’s easy to see why the Cowboys tied the franchise record with their 13th win.
The regular season ended Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field with a 27-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I hoped we could come out of here with a win, but we sure got out of here without any meaningful injury,” Jones said, “and it puts us in good stead for the next two weeks to practice, work hard and be ready to play our first game.”
He’s talking about the Cowboys’ first playoff game; they earned a first-round bye as the NFC’s top seed.
This has been a fantastic regular season for the Cowboys. They understand it means little.
The Cowboys, who have won two playoff games since the 1996 season, will be judged on their playoff performance.
The Cowboys need one victory to reach the NFC Championship Game for the first time since the 1995 season. Only the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins, who played each other in 1992, have a longer championship game drought in the NFC.
Just so you know, every other NFC team has been to the championship game twice since 1995. Eight teams have been three times and four teams have been at least four times.
“Everything you do from this point on is really how you get looked at at the end of the year,” said Prescott, who played just two series in the Cowboys’ loss. “So that’s important to us, looking forward and playing a long time in this postseason.”
It’s always good when the rookie quarterback is preaching the same message as the head coach.
“The only thing that matters is what we do now,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We have put ourselves in a great position, and it’s time to get back to work.”
This version of the Cowboys is different from the 2007 team -- the last Cowboys team to earn home field throughout the playoffs -- when Romo was experiencing his first full season as a starter.
It had been 12 seasons since the Cowboys had won as many as 12 games and they didn’t handle the success well. Romo and tight end Jason Witten took a well-documented, much-maligned trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, during the bye week and lost their first playoff game to the New York Giants, who eventually won the Super Bowl.
When the Cowboys won 12 games in 2014, it felt like they were rushing to win before Romo and Witten were too old to lead them.
The additions of Prescott and Elliott have changed all of that thinking. This season feels like the beginning of a dominant run of success, not a moment in time.
Witten (34) and right tackle Doug Free (32) are the only starters on offense in their 30s. None of the five players named to the Pro Bowl -- Prescott, Elliott and offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin -- is older than 26.
Garrett has been the coach for six full seasons and this team understands its offensive and defensive identities.
“You have to go all in,” Witten said. “You have to make sacrifices and commitments over these next few weeks.
“It’s not just another week. Everything tightens up. It’s win or go home.”
While the NFC has several quality teams, no bogeyman exists.
“Everybody does really understand what a grand opportunity this is for this team,” Jones said. “All of the work and everything that they’ve put in has a chance to really pay off for them.
“If you’re a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, you see the chemistry, you see a camaraderie.”
And you’ve seen it during the most improbable year of the Jones era.