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Hope, Heartbreak and Hail Nary: Where Does Loss to 49ers Rank Among Jerry Jones' 30 Season-Ending Losses with Cowboys?

The owner's three Super Bowls are now further buried under the rubble of crushing, season-ending defeats

When he won his most recent Super Bowl as owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones was 54.

By the time his team gets its next chance, he'll be 80.

Since Jones took the reins of America's Team in 1989, he's experienced much more suffering than success. Three Super Bowls early in his era helped cement his legacy and usher him into the Hall of Fame. But 30 season-ending losses - including last Sunday's gut-wrenching playoff defeat to the San Francisco 49ers at AT&T Stadium - have more often than not drowned him in anger, anguish and antiacids.

In the wake of the chaotic loss to San Francisco - a postseason one-and-done that spoiled the 12-5 record and NFC East Championship - Jones apparently won't knee-jerk by firing coach Mike McCarthy. Instead, he'll merely grit his teeth, take a breath and dip even further into his seemingly bottomless well of hope and optimism.

"Extraordinarily disappointed," Jones told reporters after the 23-17 loss. "This is quite a letdown."

After all these years and the despair ingested, you'd think Jones would have developed a jerky-tough exterior to give him a tolerance to tragedy. Asked the last time he was equally disappointed by a loss, he responded ...

"I can't remember."

The sun (barely?) rose in DFW Monday morning. But at this point - mired in a 26-year Super Bowl drought and the NFL's longest-ever playoff streak without advancement to the conference championship - time is running out for Jones to ride successfully into the sunset.

As way of therapy, let's provide him and his disheartened fans some pain-numbing perspective by ranking Jones' 30 season-ending losses from shrugs to soul-stealers. After all, the loss to the Niners can't be the worst.

Or can it?

30. 2019 at Cowboys 47, Washington 16 - An 8-8 season is never successful, but the blowout in which Prescott throws four touchdown passes (three to receiver Michael Gallup) helps keep the Cowboys from technically being losers.

29. 2010 Cowboys 14, at Eagles 13 - With quarterback Tony Romo (broken collar bone) and coach Wade Phillips (fired after a 1-7 start) long gone, interim Jason Garrett salvages a win over playoff-bound Philadelphia and a 5-3 finish when backup Stephen McGee hits tight end Jason Witten with a touchdown in the final minute.

28. 2017 Cowboys 6, at Eagles 0 - Prescott's touchdown pass to receiver Brice Butler with 2:41 remaining is the lone score as Dallas produces its only season-ending shutout in franchise history on New Year's Eve to finish 9-7. 

27. 1989 Packers 20, at Cowboys 10 - Dropping the Cowboys to 1-15 on Christmas Eve, this served more as mercy than agony as their lone touchdown is linebacker Jack Del Rio's fumble return. It would've sealed the No. 1 pick in the 1990 draft, but coach/GM Jimmy Johnson relinquished it when he drafted quarterback Steve Walsh in the supplemental draft five months earlier. Despite the loss and humbling record there is hope aplenty, courtesy of the draft equity acquired from the Herschel Walker trade.

26. 2015 Washington 34, at Cowboys 23 - Their worst record since 1989 (4-12) is soothed by stand-in quarterback Kellen Moore's 435-yard passing performance in the meaningless finale. During a 2-0 start Romo broke his collar bone, sending his team spiraling to seven consecutive losses behind a revolting combination of Brandon Weeden/Matt Cassel.

25. 2020 at Giants 23, Cowboys 19 - In a season harpooned by Prescott's gruesome leg injury in the fifth game, they trot out Garrett Gilbert, Ben DiNucci and Andy Dalton in a 6-10 struggle that taps out with the latter's late interception in New York's Red Zone.

24. 2004: at Giants 28, Cowboys 24 - The 6-10 team led by Vinny Testaverde and Keyshawn Johnson blows a late nine-point lead, losing when Giants' running back Tiki Barber scores with :11 remaining.

23. 2001 at Lions 15, Cowboys 10 - A forgettable season that starts 0-4 and with designs on Tony Banks as Troy Aikman's successor ends 5-11 and with Quincy Carter throwing a late interception in a humiliating loss to the 1-14 Lions.

22. 1997 Giants 20, at Cowboys 7 - Sealing the team's first losing record (6-10) since 1990, Aikman, Garrett and Wade Wilson all throw passes but generate only 105 yards in coach Barry Switzer's final game in Dallas.

21. 2000 at Titans 31, Cowboys 0 - A season that began with promise and new receiver Joey Galloway bottoms out on Christmas Night with a 5-11 record and quarterback Anthony Wright - filling in for the soon-to-be retired Aikman - completing only five passes, throwing two interceptions and getting sacked four times in one of the most hapless offensive performances in franchise history.

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20. 2002 at Washington 20, at Cowboys 14 - In his final game as a Cowboy, running back Emmitt Smith is held to 13 yards on 18 carries. Dallas finishes 5-11 in a season in which Chad Hutchinson beats out Carter and Jones fires coach Dave Campo after his third straight identical record.

19. 2005: Rams 20, at Cowboys 10 - Eliminated from the playoffs earlier on New Year's Day, Dallas falls to 9-7 after going through the motions in a game that sees it shut out in the second half while committing four turnovers.

18. 1990 at Falcons 26, Cowboys 7 - The upstart Cowboys are ahead of schedule and only one win from the playoffs when Aikman suffers a separated shoulder in a loss in Philly in their 15th game. In the do-or-die finale, backup Babe Laufenberg completes only 10 of 24 with two costly interceptions, including one returned 61 yards for a touchdown by Deion Sanders.

17. 2008 at Eagles 44, Cowboys 6 - Poised for the playoffs at 9-5, they lose the final game in the history of Texas Stadium by surrendering touchdowns runs of 77 and 82 yards in the final three minutes to the Ravens, and then lay a rotten egg in Philly with a Wild Card berth at stake. After coughing up two fumbles the Eagles return for long touchdowns of 73 and 96 yards, Romo offers a post-game reaction that ruins his reputation with some Cowboys fans forever: "If this is the worst thing that ever happens to me, I'll have had a pretty good life."

16. 2011 at Giants 31, Cowboys 14 - In a New Year's Day night game in which the winner takes the NFC East and the loser misses the playoffs, Dallas falls behind 21-0 early before rallying within seven behind Laurent Robinson touchdown catches only to fall short. Dallas goes home. The Giants win the Super Bowl.

15. 2012 at Washington 28, Cowboys 18 - See above. This time they lost the de facto NFC East Championship Game when Romo throws an interception with his team down only three and three minutes remaining.

14. 2013 at Eagles 24, Cowboys 22 - See above, again. Part 3 of the tragic trilogy takes place in Arlington, where they lose a win-or-go-home game for the third consecutive season. This time Dallas plays without Romo, who suffered a season-ending back injury the previous week. In his place, Kyle Orton can't connect with Dez Bryant on a two-point conversion with three minutes left, then is intercepted with 1:49 remaining while driving for a potential game-winning, playoff-clinching field goal.

13. 2003 at Panthers 29, Cowboys 10 - After working a miracle to guide it into the playoffs with Carter at quarterback, coach Bill Parcells' team falls flat in a Wild Card loss in which running backs Troy Hambrick and Richie Anderson are held to a combined 47 yards by Carolina's Super Bowl-bound defense.

12. 1999 at Vikings 27, Cowboys 10 - After an 8-8 season in which receiver Michael Irvin retires, they ride replacement Rocket Ismail and jump to a 10-3 lead but are then swamped in the Wild Card game in Minneapolis. Despite his coach leading the team to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, Jones fires Chan Gailey after the loss.

11. 1998 Cardinals 20, at Cowboys 7 - Acting as the final gasps of a dying dynasty, Aikman throws three interceptions and Emmitt/Irvin combine for only 116 yards in a Wild Card loss that prompts more sadness than anger.

10. 2021 49ers 23, at Cowboys 17 - Spoiling a 12-5, division-championship season highlighted by countless individual and team records, they fall behind San Francisco 13-0 in the Wild Card game before mounting a late rally that excruciatingly falls short when Prescott is unable to stop the clock in time for one final throw into the end zone from the 49ers' 24.

9. 1991 at Lions 38, Cowboys 6 - With Steve Beuerlein filling in for the injured Aikman, Dallas rattles of six consecutive wins including its first playoff victory in nine years over the Bears in the Wild Card game. Despite Aikman returning, Dallas runs into an unlikely buzzsaw in Detroit in the Divisional Round. No not Barry Sanders, but rather a quarterback named Erik Kramer that throws for 341 yards and three touchdowns.

8. 2009 at Vikings 34, Cowboys 3 - Coming off an 11-5 season, division championship and their first playoff win in 13 years, they are throttled in Minneapolis as Romo throws an interception and loses two fumbles.

7. 2018 at Rams 30, Cowboys 22 - After beating the Seahawks in the Wild Card they are steamrolled in Los Angeles, surrendering 273 combined rushing yards to Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson in a Divisional Round game that isn't nearly as close as the final margin suggests.

6. 2006 at Seahawks 21, Cowboys 20 - Though only a 9-7 team in a Wild Card game, it just might be the most dramatic - if not devastating - playoff loss during Jones' regime. Inserted as the starter by Parcells at halftime of the sixth game, Romo propels Dallas into the postseason and then into position to beat the favored Seahawks. But lining up for a seemingly simple 19-yard field goal by kicker Martin Gramatica with 1:19 remaining, Romo bobbles and eventually botches the snap. Parcells quits the Cowboys and retires from coaching two weeks later.

5. 1996 at Panthers 26, Cowboys 17 - Having won three Super Bowls in four years and coming off a 40-15 thrashing of the Vikings a week earlier, this beginning-of-the-end defeat against a three-year-old franchise comes out of nowhere. Aikman throws three interceptions, Irvin (on the game's second play) and Sanders leave with injuries and Smith is outrushed by Panthers' journeyman Anthony Johnson. Dallas runs 12 plays inside Carolina's 10 in the first three quarters, but nets only three field goals.

4. 2014 at Packers 26, Cowboys 21 - After Bryant's leaping, tumbling catch with 4:06 remaining in the Divisional Round game, the Cowboys are one yard from perhaps finally returning to the NFC Championship Game. And then - after further review - they aren't. In fact, after a Green Bay coach named Mike McCarthy successfully challenges Bryant's 31-yard catch on 4th and 2, the Packers take possession, run out the clock with a 3rd-and-11 tipped completion to Randall Cobb, and Dallas never gets another snap.

3. 2007 Giants 21, at Cowboys 17 - Behind Romo, Witten, receiver Terrell Owens and the running back tandem of Julio Jones/Marion Barber, the Cowboys bring the NFL's highest-scoring offense, a 13-3 record, home-field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs and two double-digit regular-season victories over the Giants into the Divisional Round game at Texas Stadium. But after receiving criticism for venturing to Cabo during Dallas' bye week, Romo is savagely blamed for his fourth-down interception in the end zone from New York's 23 with :16 remaining. Three weeks later the Giants upset the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl.

2. 2016 Packers 34, at Cowboys 31 - Similarly to 2007, their 13-3 record seemingly has a smooth path mapped to the Super Bowl. But in this Divisional Round game, a team powered by rookies Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott falls behind 21-3 before rallying. Dan Bailey's 52-yard field goal finally pulls Dallas even at 31, but leaves :58 for Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Facing 3rd and 20 with :12 remaining, Rodgers somehow completes a 36-yard pass to toe-dragging tight end Jared Cook. Green Bay's Mason Crosby hits a 51-yard field goal on the next play as time expires.

1. 1994 at 49ers 38, Cowboys 28 - Despite entering the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park as a 7.5-point underdog, this is as close as Jones' team will be to the Super Bowl in a quarter-century. Seeking a Three-Peat and led by Switzer in the wake of the messy Jimmy-Jerry divorce, the star-powered Cowboys go 12-4 and destroy Brett Favre's Packers, 35-9, in the Divisional Round. But against a revamped (adding Sanders in free agency) and resolute 49ers team Hell-bent on revenge for championship-game losses to Dallas the previous two seasons, the Cowboys get off to a nightmarish, 21-0 start. Cornerback Eric Davis picks off Aikman for a 44-yard touchdown on the game's third play. On Dallas' second series Irvin fumbles, and then Kevin Williams does the same on the ensuing kickoff. Despite running only six plays, the Cowboys have three turnovers and trail by three touchdowns. They get within 10 points early in the fourth quarter, but on the game's key play Sanders isn't flagged for an obvious pass interference on Irvin inside San Francisco's 10 and the Cowboys fall short to set into motion 26 years of failure.