Cowboys left with talk of what wasn't

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In a cramped corner of the Dallas Cowboys' locker room, Dez Bryant was still dressed in full uniform and wearing a black knit hat with the Cowboys logo after the team's NFC divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers had ended.

Bryant's hands rested on his hips, and his words were directed at no one in particular.

"I've never seen anything like that," he said softly, while slowly shaking his head back and forth.

"I've never seen anything like that. I've never seen anything like that."

Then, he walked slowly toward the showers, a trail of reporters following him. There was no trace of anger in his words. He didn't even curse.

"Y'all seen what I seen," Bryant said. "Y'all seen what I seen. One, two and reach."

Green Bay 26, Dallas 21.

For 47 years, we've talked about Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr's game-winning quarterback sneak behind guard Jerry Kramer in the waning seconds that gave Green Bay it's third consecutive world championship.

No more.

We'll be talking about Bryant's Lambeau Leap that wasn't.

It's a shame, really, because we should be talking about a riveting game filled with the kind of ebb and flow that has made football America's pastime.

With 4 minutes, 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys faced fourth-and-2 at the Green Bay 32.

For one of the few times all game, Bryant wasn't double-teamed. So Romo went for the jugular.

He lofted a high pass into the chilly air as Bryant sprinted down the left sideline. Bryant, as he has done countless times throughout his career, snatched the ball with two hands at its highest point.

He shifted the ball to his left hand, cradling it against his shoulder as he braced for the fall with his right hand. As Bryant fell to the ground, he tried to lunge into the end zone.

The ball popped into the air as Bryant rolled over, but he grabbed it before it ever hit the ground.

As an official spotted the ball at the Green Bay 1, tight end Jason Witten ran into the end zone to celebrate with Bryant.

It was short lived.

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play and officials determined Bryant did not make a football move, which is a necessary component of any completed pass.

"Not even a thought. Not even a thought," said Bryant, when asked if he considered the play would get overturned. "I knew we were in position to have an opportunity to take the lead. That's all I knew.

"You see my hand? I tried to stretch forward. I wasn't off balance. I was trying to stretch for it and get in the end zone."

The Packers took over possession, and two first downs later, Bryant trudged dejectedly off the field.

No team wants to lose the way the Cowboys did. They want it settled on the field. Athletes can handle getting their butts kicked, and they can handle losing because of a physical or mental mistake made on the field.

But no competitor wants an official's decision to be a vital part of winning or losing any game.

So no one would've been surprised if anger filled the Cowboys' locker room, but it didn't. Shock is a better description. Or, perhaps, disbelief.

Guard Ron Leary sat in a plastic chair staring into an empty locker and muttering to himself. Defensive end Tyrone Crawford dropped a four-letter word as he walked toward the showers.

DeMarco Murray sat silently in front of his locker meticulously unwrapping the tape on each of his wrists. One assistant coach's eyes were red and moist, and a team doctor's face grew redder by the second as he sought an explanation for how Bryant's catch had been overturned.

A few players spoke quietly to each other, and more than a few exchanged hugs.

They were proud of their performance this season and against a team that went 8-0 at home and destroyed opponents in Lambeau Field. Still, they were disappointed with the outcome.

That said, this didn't feel so much like the end of a season as the beginning of the best stretch of Cowboys football since the glory days of the 1990s.

These Cowboys tied for the NFL lead with 12 wins and won NFC East for the first time since 2009. If Dallas had beaten Green Bay, no doubt existed within the locker room that the team could win the NFC Championship Game in Seattle, where they beat the Seattle Seahawks earlier this season.

The reality is no game is ever decided by a single play. Every play matters. Every series matters.

The Cowboys led 14-7, 21-13 and 21-20 entering the fourth quarter. They were 10-0 this season when leading after three quarters, 13-0 when they scored 20 points in a game and 8-0 on the road.

But the Cowboys didn't #finishthefight, their season-long mantra.

Sometimes, at the end of a hard-fought loss, folks become consumed with finding someone to blame. Sometimes, a hard-fought loss is just a hard-fought loss.

"You can't hang your head after a game like this," Bryant said. "You can't even get mad. You just have to accept it. We're going to keep fighting and move on."

As Tony Romo said, it's going to take a while to take a global view of this season. Milk and cookies and a good night's sleep aren't going to erase the collective disappointment this team experienced against Green Bay.

Bryant's Lambeau Leap is now part of NFL lore, and the Cowboys are 19 years removed from the last time they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.