How Mike McCarthy mismanaged the Cowboys out of a playoff spot in Week 17

Uh … How ’bout them Cowboys?

The NFC East wasn’t exactly a drag race between hot rods, but four makeshift motor scooters running on diet soda and pain, strapped together with some Band-Aids and duct tape. That race comes to an end on Sunday night.

Unfortunately for Dallas, their scooter and bid for an NFC East crown fell apart in a 23-19 loss to the Giants on Sunday, and there were no watermelons smashed, either. The only thing destroyed were the hopes of a Dallas playoff run with the loss (which required a win and Washington loss). And head coach Mike McCarthy played exactly into that.

It’s hard to pin wins and losses directly on a head coach, but McCarthy had a few clear gaffes on Sunday that played into the final score of Dallas’ L, leading to prominent talking heads to go on the tweet machine and call the Dallas head man a “boob.”

As fans stare into the offseason abyss wondering what the next moves for Dallas will be, they’ll have two clear moments to look back on.

Didn’t go for 2

After a touchdown and down 20-15, McCarthy had a choice: Do the Cowboys go for two to bring the score to 20-17, or settle for a point to bring it to a (largely inconsequential) score of 20-16?

McCarthy opted for the latter, bringing the the Cowboys to within a touchdown, but not a field goal.

In that situation, a point doesn’t do anything for the Cowboys in that situation. Another touchdown would bring the score to 23-20, leaving the Giants within a field goal of tying the game. A two-point attempt does more for you in that situation: If converted, the score is brought to within a field goal. At 20-16, you’ll still need at least a touchdown to pull ahead. (Or two safeties, to be fair.)

The decision was met with some criticism: 

Didn’t challenge an incomplete pass

McCarthy has only challenged two plays in 2020 — one overturned and one upheld — but the incomplete pass he didn’t challenge on Sunday may have been the worst of his decisions.

In the fourth quarter, Giants wideout Dante Pettis was credited for a catch that clearly hit the ground. McCarthy, though, chose not to challenge the play, leading to a Giants field goal — extending the lead to 23-19. Had the pass been ruled incomplete, the field-goal try would have been pushed to 60 yards, not the more manageable 50 that Gano secured.

The ball seems to slip through Pettis’ arms with the ground helping him secure the catch, and it was — somewhat bafflingly — not challenged by McCarthy.

Adding to the intrigue, Giants head coach Joe Judge said had the play been ruled incomplete instead, the team would have played the situation differently, because the Giants would have been pushed out of field-goal range. By Judge’s own admission, they likely would have punted in that down and distance.

The field goal turned out to help decide the game in the Giants’ favor, pushing the score to 23-19, which would hold firm, ending the Cowboys’ playoff hopes.

With Dallas brass already lobbying for McCarthy to return, though, maybe the Dallas head coach will have a whole new way to break fans’ hearts come the 2021 season.

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