Cowboys have something going if the head coach stays out of the way


On a Sunday the Cowboys sent the rest of the league another message that Dak Prescott, Trevon Diggs, Micah Parsons, Randy Gregory and a long line of receivers and running backs give them aces up nearly every sleeve, Mike McCarthy keeps hitting on 14. And he keeps beating the house.

One of these days, he just might lose it.

Here’s the takeaway after the Cowboys’ harder-than-it-should-have-been 36-28 win over Carolina in front of 93,262 at JerryWorld:

Try playing it straight for a change, Mike. Your team is good enough, and you’re no good at gambling.

Before going there, though, just how good are these Cowboys? Historically good after only four games.

For instance, they won after winning on Monday night for the first time since way back in 2008. Maybe that stat doesn’t mean much to you. To me, it means they didn’t suffer a Monday night hangover. It suggests a team that, win or lose, gets back to the business at hand in a short week. Which is nice, considering that, going into Sunday, the Cowboys were 2-12 after a Monday night game since 2006.

The Cowboys boast a second-year cornerback who has started the season with five interceptions in four games, a team record, and still isn’t happy with the results. They’ve got a quarterback, only a week away from the one-year anniversary of an injury that’s ruined lesser men, throwing four touchdown passes, scrambling when needed, playing better than ever.

Dak’s three TDs in the third quarter, in particular — the most since a similar effort by Tony Romo in 2007 — broke open a taut game.

And yet here were the Cowboys — with a minute-and-a-half left and the Panthers only a touchdown and two-point conversion away from sending the game into overtime — needing a draw-it-up-in-the-dirt kind of play to put the game away.

If you were feeling a little anxious watching the Cowboys fritter away a 22-point lead with starters chilling on the sideline, a queasiness abated only when Dak handed off to Zeke Elliott, who then pitched to Tony Pollard for the first down, you should have been sitting next to the owner.

“Probably a little early to take some of your key guys out there near the end,” Jerry Jones said afterward, undercutting a head coach yet again. “I understand some of them were limited and they had reasons for being out, but boy, they just, you couldn’t cut the head off.

“They kept coming.”

Which seemed fairly impossible, considering that Matt Rhule, who has done for the Panthers exactly what he did for Baylor, had used up all of his timeouts with 12 minutes left in the game. Seemed like poor coaching strategy. But then his counterpart across the field had already done him a couple worse.

On not just one but two occasions, McCarthy went for two instead of kicking the extra point and failed each time. Had Greg Zuerlein added the PATs instead, the Cowboys would have been up 10 with less than two minutes to play, and any undue angst would have been avoided.

But, if we’ve learned anything about McCarthy in his short tenure here, it’s that, win or lose, he’ll do something goofy.

He defended his first two-point attempt Sunday by arguing that it’s an automatic after a penalty gave the Cowboys the ball at the 1. The second? “You trust your go-for-two chart,” he said.

Any other coach might get away with those explanations, just as any other coach might have been justified. But no other coach in recent memory has piled up as many questionable decisions as McCarthy.

For that matter, he nearly made another gaffe in the fourth quarter. With the ball just inside the Carolina 20, he thought about going for it on fourth-and-one. Even challenged the spot of the ball. Once he lost that challenge, he luckily lost his nerve and sent Zuerlein out for a 37-yard field goal.

Frankly, it shouldn’t even have come down to a question of the spot. Kick the field goal and go up 22 points.

As it happened, Carolina rallied late with Diggs and others on the sideline. Turns out McCarthy had good reason, saying Diggs’ back had tightened up. Still, Diggs had played with the problem, just as Amari Cooper played through a busted rib and touchy hamstring. Part of what Cooper calls “building a culture.” One we haven’t seen around here in a long, long time.

These Cowboys, especially the young ones, are certainly a game bunch. They work hard, play hard and say all the right things. No one’s “eating the cheese,” as Bill Parcells once counseled. But it’s difficult not to be impressed by an offense that scored more points against Carolina in three quarters than the Panthers had yielded in three games. Say what you want about Sam Darnold, who looked better running than passing most of Sunday afternoon, but the Panthers’ defense is the real deal.

Even so, the first words out of Dak’s mouth after the game were that the offense “left some meat on the bone.” Or at least that’s what I think he said. Hard to hear him as fans pounded on the windows lining the interview room. It got so noisy, a member of the media jokingly asked Rich Dalrymple, the Cowboys’ grand pooh-bah of media relations, to do something about it.

Dalrymple didn’t so much as flinch.

“We’ve waited a long time for this,” he said, smiling.

Something great seems to be brewing here, all right. If only the head coach stays out of the way.

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