ARLINGTON, Texas -- Imagine if Dez Bryant's fingertips were not out of bounds with 10 seconds to play, or if replay were not allowed?
One day perhaps Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware would be sitting in Canton, Ohio, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, reminiscing about their careers and all the good times, especially that cloudless Oct. 28, 2012, day at Cowboys Stadium when they beat the New York Giants 30-29 on Bryant's last-second catch.
Ware would remember his sack of Eli Manning, No. 107 of his career, as the defense held the Hall of Fame quarterback to only 192 yards passing and made plays when it mattered most. Witten could recite his 18 catches, not only a franchise record but the most in league history by a tight end, as he willed the Cowboys to a win.
But if is such a large word.
Bryant's fingertips did in fact land out of bounds and a 37-yard touchdown was only an incompletion in a painful 29-24 loss to the Giants.
"I was actually thinking that when Dez caught the ball I was saying, 'This is the turnaround we need right at the end of the game to pull it out,'" Ware said. "The thing is, it didn't happen and now is the adverse time. OK, how are you going to get better from this? You've got to get better from this."
How much more can Ware and Witten take?
The Cowboys are wasting their primes with games like Sunday's and seasons like this one and so many seasons before this one.
They work hard, work hurt, produce and for what? One playoff win between them. And with the way 2012 is going, playoff victory No. 2 does not look as though it will come this season.
"It's hard," said Witten, his voice scratchy after the game. "You battle. Hey, look, nobody's feeling sorry for me or Tony or anybody else. You feel like you do everything the right way, then things are going to turn. Not to compare myself to this guy because he's a great one, but John Elway went his whole career that way and finally got there at the end."
Elway, however, was at least able to enjoy the ride of three Super Bowl appearances before finally hoisting the Lombardi trophy. His Hall of Fame career was cemented whether the Broncos won a Super Bowl or didn't. His legacy truly changed with the two championships to close his career.
By the end of the season no Cowboy in team history will have more sacks than Ware. While he is already the official sacks leader because the NFL did not recognize the stat until 1982, he trails Harvey Martin in the unofficial category by seven. Randy White is second with 111.
He has had at least a half sack in five straight games, the fourth such streak of his career. Ware has sacked Manning 13.5 times in his career, with Sunday's breaking a tie with Ed "Too Tall" Jones for third place in team history.
"You know what, this game is about small, intricate things," Ware said. "I feel like we didn't create enough turnovers as a defense to give the ball back as much as they did and we didn't do that. We've got to figure why. But you can't play the blame game right now."
With four catches next week at Atlanta, Witten will be the franchise's all-time leader in receptions, surpassing Hall of Famer Michael Irvin. It will be fitting that the record will come with the NFL's all-time leader in tight end catches, Tony Gonzalez, on the other sideline.
Witten now owns the top three marks in team history for catches in a game. The 18 catches are tied for third most in a game in NFL history. His 167 yards were a career high and Sunday was the 16th time he had more than 100 yards receiving.
Witten called the first meeting of the season against the Giants his most memorable, coming off virtual inactivity because of a lacerated spleen to help deliver a win. Sunday night was too early for Witten to rank this game, but there is a sense of satisfaction after his slow start to the season … to a point.
"It's a good feeling, but at this point you're not playing for 15 more catches," Witten said. "You're playing to give yourself a chance to compete for a championship."
But at this point you have to wonder if he and Ware will ever get a real chance.