I expect there to be mourning and soul-searching in Dallas. That happens, when you miss the playoffs several years in a row.
On the other hand, I have never understood why a string of 8-8 seasons is supposedly worse than, say, having an actual losing season.
I watched last night, and there was no point where I thought the players or the coaches did anything to embarrass me. On the contrary--we showed poise, played smart football, and came back from a 2-1 turnover deficit to put ourselves in the perfect place to win the football game. Two minutes, only 40 yards to drive for a game winning field goal, the offense moving pretty well all night. Alas, it was not to be.
We had three-and-outs. We had sacks. We overcame the most egregious bone-headed call I've ever seen (a delay-of-game penalty assessed simply because the officials didn't give us the correct amount of time to line up after a long play). We went for it on 4th down at the right times. We ran well, but didn't let ourselves get one-dimensional once the Eagles adjusted to contain Murray.
In general, turnovers are the hardest part of the game to predict. Murray has lost one fumble all year--it's going to happen. A backup quarterback will sometimes throw it behind his guy. It's going to happen. Despite the defense crashing in to create a fumble, the turnover-ratio was -2, and those are seldom games you win.
More to the point, games without your top two players are seldom games you win. This was a season, for the second year in a row, where we just weren't healthy enough to hold on. This was not a matter of insufficient depth, or collapsing without our top players. This was a matter of gutsy play, while missing multiple top players, by young and/ or rusty guys who gave us a creditable chance to win. For the game, and for the season. We keep losing (and winning) close games for a reason. It's because we're always in there.
I was embarrassed by the losses to New Orleans and to Chicago. I was angry (but not embarrassed) by the dumb play-calling that gave up the 26-3 lead over the Packers. But as I look around the league, and as I sit here after a last-minute loss to a very good Eagles team,I don't see us as a team in crisis. I don't see us as a team that I'm embarrassed to watch.
On the contrary, I see us a team that got just a little bit too unlucky just a little bit too often.
I don't know whether we need to blow up this team next year. That's largely a cap question, though it is also a question about age and health. Many of us saw (rightly) that a D-line that looked great on paper wasn't going to really work, because we were getting too old. If we have to trade people away or let people go, I'm fine with that.
But I will not look back on these 8-8 years with a sense of mourning or shame. I am a fan. I think we are a flawed, very good team--and like every team, our weaknesses are compounded when our best players are off the field or playing injured. Like every good team, we have explosive and gutsy players who can give us a chance anyway. And like more teams than we would like to admit, we are at the mercy of luck. Luck on the field--luck in player health--and even luck in the way things panned out for our competition. (If the Eagles had gotten even a little less lucky during their play-only-injury-ridden-team streak, 8-8 could easily have won the NFC East for us.)
Jason Garrett might not be the best coach in the league--but he's not just a loser, either. And the players we have brought together give me all kinds of hope, whether or not we end up blowing up some of the key pieces. I'm proud to be a Cowboy, in defeat as well as in victory. The line between the two is, after all, extremely thin.