On opening night, after a performance in defeat that still gave the Cowboys hope of what was to come, Dak Prescott and Tom Brady met on the field.

After exchanging compliments, Prescott had a parting message for the Tampa Bay quarterback before leaving to join his teammates in the locker room.
 
“We’ll see y’all again,’’ Prescott told Brady on that September night. “Trust me.’’

A 23-17 wild-card loss Sunday to San Francisco means Dallas fell a victory short of that rematch with the defending Super Bowl champions. The Cowboys won’t be making a return trip to Tampa Bay because Prescott and the NFL’s No. 1 offense couldn’t be trusted to rise to the occasion.

Sure, the chaotic finish in which an official bumped into Prescott and squeezed just enough time off the clock to prevent the quarterback from clocking the ball in time for one, final shot at victory was the focus in the aftermath of another premature postseason exit. But before we get to that sequence, let’s focus on what occurred during the game’s opening 55 minutes.

The Cowboys not only became the first home team to lose in this postseason, they never led. Dallas went into the final period down 23-7. Two weeks earlier at AT&T Stadium, the Cowboys were down to Arizona 22-7 entering the game’s final 12 minutes.

For all the Cowboys accomplished in this 12-5 regular season, that was an issue that lingered. Dallas built its record on the bones of a weak division in the NFC East and some other substandard opponents. When the Cowboys faced a playoff team, as they did Sunday, they often struggled.

What this did was build a false sense of bravado. It can be argued the Cowboys convinced themselves they were better than they actually were heading into this postseason.

They don’t have much of a rebuttal at this point. A team that averaged 36.4 points at home this season didn’t reach even half that total against San Francisco.

Still, with 32 seconds remaining and an opportunity that’s difficult to fathom, Dallas had a chance to win the game.

The Cowboys had the ball on their own 20-yard line with no timeouts. Prescott completed a pass to Cedrick Wilson for 9 yards, and Wilson’s lateral to CeeDee Lamb tacked on another 11 yards. Prescott came right back with a completion to Tony Pollard for 10 yards and another to Dalton Schultz for 9 yards.

Dallas had the ball on the San Francisco 41-yard line with 14 seconds left. With the middle of the field wide-open — for obvious reasons since the San Francisco defense was protecting the sidelines — Prescott took off up the middle for 17 yards before sliding down at the 24-yard line.

It can be argued that Prescott ran too far, giving the team too little time to run downfield, line up and clock the ball.

“I have no problem with the call,” head coach Mike McCarthy said. “We call that situation a church clock situation. It’s something we practice every Friday and Saturday.”

Prescott said in hindsight, he would have gone down sooner if he knew what was going to happen. But how could he know?

The defender lay on top of Prescott, taking another two seconds or so off the clock. As he got up and ran to the line of scrimmage, Prescott figured he would be able to clock it with one second on the clock, maybe even two to three seconds if everything went right.

It didn’t. Prescott was hit from behind by the official as he ran to the line, taking a couple of seconds.

“As I was handing the ball to [center] Tyler [Biadasz] there was four seconds left, and making sure everyone was set, I got hit from behind,” Prescott said. “I saw two seconds. I thought I could snap it and get down before time expired.

“I’m not quite sure exactly what happened other than that.’’

Neither is McCarthy.

“I’ve never seen it come down that way,” McCarthy said. “It came down as far as the collision between the umpire and the quarterback.

“Our play was to get inside the 30 and set up the last play. The mechanics were intact from our end of it. The communication I got on the sideline was they would be putting time back on the clock, and the next thing I know is they’re running off the field.

“Those are the only facts I have for you.”

Prescott should have handed the ball to the official. That also was part of the problem. Still, Prescott and the offense felt they did all they could to give themselves one last shot at the end zone.

Instead, they were standing on the field as time expired.

“We had a chance,” Prescott said of that final possession. “That’s all I can ask for. Down by six, a chance to go win the game.

“It just didn’t go our way.”

Again. This team has only four postseason wins in the last 26 years and hasn’t advanced past the divisional round. This season had a chance to be different.

It wasn’t. It was more of the same.

Prescott and this team didn’t get it down. There will be no rematch with Tampa Bay.

“Not good enough,” Prescott said of his performance. “Simple as that. I take a lot of pride in my job and take accountability in this moment. I’ve got to be better to help this team win.

“When you play for the Dallas Cowboys, you understand it’s Super Bowl or nothing. Having the team we have…we definitely underachieved and it sucks.

“Point blank.”

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