- Calvin Watkins, ESPN.com
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The Dallas Cowboys' players and coaches started their season with the pressures of trying to become the first team to host a Super Bowl in their own stadium.
As the season comes to a close Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia, the pressures have switched from the players to the front office, particularly the scouting department, as it makes sure it drafts a playmaker among the first 10 to 12 picks of next spring's NFL draft.
The Cowboys went from a team that gave up the second-fewest points in the league last year, to one that allowed the most in franchise history this season.
Coach Wade Phillips was fired at midseason. Primary players Tony Romo, Marcus Spears, Roy Williams, Dez Bryant and Marion Barber missed a combined 22 games to injuries this year. The roster spots of several players are in doubt.
Spears becomes a free agent after the season. Barber and Williams could be released because of their high salaries and ineffective play. Starting safeties Gerald Sensabaugh and Alan Ball become free agents after the year, and starting inside linebackers Bradie James and Keith Brooking enter the last year of their contracts. Starting left guard Kyle Kosier also is a free agent following the season.
And let's not forget the coaching search Jerry Jones will embark on this spring.
An uncertain labor agreement could mean one of the worst seasons in Cowboys history will linger on for months and put some of these decisions on hold.
It's a season several players can't put into words.
"I can't do it," James said. "It's been a roller coaster. I've tried to process when we lost Wade at the halfway point. There is no way I can do it in one word. I'd probably have to write a memoir or something. I'll let you know when that comes out."
Said tight end Jason Witten: "Just mind-boggling really. Something I never thought would happen, how it's all unfolded the way it did, so many things, from the first game to last week."
The tone of the season was set in the regular-season opener at Washington.
Running back Tashard Choice was stripped of the ball toward the end of the first half by cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who scored on a 32-yard fumble recovery for a 10-0 halftime lead.
Jason Garrett, the offensive coordinator at the time who is now the interim head coach, admitted a mistake in judgment calling for a pass.
It was a signature moment for Hall and the Redskins, who endured their own turmoil this season.
"That play against Dallas kind of had me thinking that we're going to be off to a hell of a season," Hall said. "All the balls hadn't bounced our way like we would have hoped."
In that same game, the Cowboys still had a chance to win and thought they did when Williams caught a touchdown pass from Romo. A holding call on Alex Barron, who was playing right tackle for an injured Marc Colombo, negated the touchdown.
"I'm still upset for my mistake," Barron said this week. "It hurt us as a team. I don't know what would have happened if things were different. I took credit for the mistake that I made. It was bad, and bad for me, and bad for my teammates."
The Cowboys got off to a 0-2 start but won their first game at Houston in dominating fashion. Still, it wasn't enough. The Cowboys lost five more games, ending with a 45-7 defeat at the Green Bay Packers and forcing Jones to fire Phillips and move Garrett into the interim role.
It was a situation the Cowboys didn't believe they would ever be in. Even in games in which they thought they could have won, they didn't. On Christmas night at Arizona, the Cowboys took a 26-24 lead when Stephen McGee, the third quarterback they've used this year, threw a 37-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Miles Austin. Kicker David Buehler, who has shown flashes of inconsistency, missed the point-after attempt.
Instead of a three-point game, it was a slim two-point advantage. The Cardinals, led by rookie quarterback John Skelton, won the game on a 48-yard field goal with five seconds left.
After that game, Jones didn't want to speak about Garrett's job status, saying he was "mad as hell" about what happened.
Days later, Jones reflected on a season that's gone nowhere.
"In general, I'm very disappointed and very surprised that we're sitting here with this team with the kind of draft pick we may get," he said. "We all know what that means. That's surprising."
Cowboys struggle to reflect on a season that quickly turned disappointing.