Less than an hour after Jerry Jones suffered one of the most painful losses of his Dallas Cowboys stewardship, the team's owner found a glimmer of hope in his rookies' comeback attempt.
"I thought that we were a team that was capable of taking this thing all the way. I know we are now after that second half," Jones said.
As the sting of Sunday's last-second loss to the Packers wears off, it will be tempting for Cowboys fans to pencil the team right back into a home playoff game. My driver home from the stadium that night wasn't too crushed, believing that another dynasty led by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott was on its way. But that's just not how the NFL usually works.
Tony Romo led the Cowboys to a 13-3 record in his first full season as a starter before losing as a No. 1 seed in the 2007 Divisional Round. He spent most of the next decade chasing that unfinished success. Prescott, Elliott and a stacked offensive line provide Jones a better overall foundation to build upon with this group, but this team has plenty of work to do. Here's where they should start this offseason:
Invest in the pass rush
The Cowboys' biggest weakness on paper all season showed up on the field against Green Bay. The Cowboys had to blitz to get any pressure on Aaron Rodgers and it wasn't enough. Perhaps mammoth defensive end David Irving is a future star -- like the broadcast analysts insisted -- or perhaps he was a two-game wonder who hasn't otherwise stood out in his career.
Jones and family have tried to address this problem in recent drafts, but Demarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory and defensive tackle Maliek Collins aren't enough. Don't be shocked if the Cowboys get loose with some money in free agency. (Jason Pierre-Paul? Melvin Ingram?) Their tricky salary-cap situation can always be solved with some accounting creativity. Jones has done it before and could convince himself a prime pass rusher is the one missing piece to splurge on.
Find Dak a new backup
"What you saw that veteran quarterback do in Rodgers out there, Romo is capable of doing," Jones said Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.
The Cowboys managed a delicate situation well for one season, but it can't continue. There should be a market for Romo, a subject I've written about at length already and likely will write about more, to the delight of Jones. Figuring out that market will be complicated and Romo will have a big say in where he winds up.
The key for Dallas will be finding someone to replace Romo. The Cowboys shouldn't settle on Mark Sanchez, but instead investigate other potential backups like Brian Hoyer or Nick Foles. Drafting another quarterback is not so crazy, either; the Cowboys could develop someone in their QB-friendly system. No team drafts more quarterbacks early than the Patriots and it's working out pretty well for them.
Expand the offense
This should be the easiest item on the checklist to accomplish. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has been around all sorts of quarterbacks and knows he can't just roll out the team's 2016 offense again. It was Super Bowl-ready, but opponents will adjust.
Look for Prescott to handle more responsibility and incorporate more downfield throws next season. While Elliott should be the centerpiece of the offense, Prescott looks ready to handle any challenge in front of him. The Cowboys' passing attack wasn't overly diverse this season, yet it was extremely effective. That bodes well as the team attempts to add elements in the first full offseason with Prescott running the show.
Find some young pass catchers
Dallas' lack of depth at wide receiver showed up against the Packers. Brice Butler had a brutal game and hasn't consistently performed like a guy whose role should be upgraded. Starter Terrance Williams is a free agent and could leave. Starting tight end Jason Witten will be returning for his 15th season and 2013 second-round pick Gavin Escobar could be gone after failing to make much of an impact.
Pick some favorites in the secondary
Dallas' group of solid starters in the secondary was a bright spot for the defense. Now the franchise faces a free-agent period where safety Barry Church, cornerback Brandon Carr and cornerback Morris Claiborne are all set to hit the market. Throw in No. 3 safety J.J. Wilcox as a free agent and the team is headed for a potential overall in the defensive backfield.
Church and Claiborne are likely the priorities here, but the market could overvalue them. This sets up a complicated few months for the Dallas front office, which will primarily be focused on improving the defense. The team's route to win Super Bowl LI would have included beating Green Bay, Atlanta and an AFC team in three straight shootouts. The Cowboys' defense wasn't going to hold top teams down, which was asking too much of an offense led by rookies.
This offseason will be about trying to achieve balance and not getting too comfortable with the team's status as one of the league's heavyweights. Never short on attention, Dallas is an organization that hasn't always handled success well.