ARLINGTON, Texas – Mike McCarthy’s future as Dallas Cowboys coach wasn’t something Jerry Jones wanted to discuss after a wild-card loss that left the owner saying “I can’t remember” when asked if he’d ever been more disappointed in defeat.
Questions about McCarthy come in part because the Cowboys could lose both coordinators to head coaching jobs in Kellen Moore on offense and Dan Quinn on defense. Moore is getting interviews for a second consecutive year, and Quinn took Atlanta to a Super Bowl in that role.
The 23-17 loss to San Francisco on Sunday was another uneven performance from franchise quarterback Dak Prescott and Moore's offense. It was punctuated by the hotly debated decision to run Prescott up the middle without a timeout with 14 seconds remaining believing there was time to spike the ball and run one more play.
After it didn't work and McCarthy, Prescott and other Dallas players criticized officials for the clock running out, Jones flatly rejected the supposed controversy with a dose of reality.
“I think this is a time that when you get this combination of players together, you need to have success, because we all know how it goes in the NFL,” Jones said after Sunday's game. “The whole thing is set up to take away from the best, and add to the ones that need improvement, and personnel-wise, I think we have one of the best (teams).”
The Cowboys haven't even reached an NFC championship game since winning the last of the franchise's five Super Bowl titles during the 1995 season. It's quite a drought for Jones, also the club's general manager, after Dallas won three championships in four years early in his ownership.
Dallas had the No. 1 offense and an opportunistic defense that led the NFL in takeaways. Now Prescott has a 1-3 playoff record after the club's first wild-card defeat since Tony Romo infamously flubbed the snap on a potential go-ahead field goal late in a loss at Seattle 15 years ago. Add the frantic failure to get off a final snap to the growing list of playoff lowlights.
“In all my years I don’t know that I’ve had a better chance or a better full team than this,” Prescott said. “It’s hard to accept knowing every year that a team’s not going to be the same, some of those guys won’t be back. It’s just hard for me to accept right now.”
SO MUCH FOR EXPERIENCE
The Cowboys hoped McCarthy's experience of leading Green Bay to four NFC title games in 12-plus seasons would help end the long drought.
Instead, he faces mounting questions about game management after the finishing sequence, and a strange attempt to keep the punt team on the field for an offensive play after a successful fake. The Cowboys ended up getting a delay of game after the offense came back out.
McCarthy won his Super Bowl at the home of the Cowboys 11 years ago, and his last playoff victory with the Packers was at AT&T Stadium during the standout rookie year for Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott in 2016. Aaron Rodgers led that divisional-round win.
No such warm, fuzzy feelings in the retractable-roof venue now. The loss to the 49ers gave the Cowboys a finishing 2-4 stretch at home in the second year of McCarthy's five-year contract. The NFC East champs were 12-6 overall.
“I don’t have any concerns,” McCarthy said when asked about his job security. “I’m proud to be standing here today. I’m proud of my football team.”
IN NEED OF REPAIR
The Dallas offensive line was long considered elite in the Romo era, and early in Prescott's six-year tenure. Not anymore. The Cowboys were pushed around in another poor showing by the running game, and Prescott was pressured consistently despite Nick Bosa missing half the game with a concussion.
The group was prone to penalties, a big reason why the Cowboys led the league in that category. Left guard Connor Williams was benched because of penalties during the season, but Connor McGovern wasn't good enough to keep the job after replacing him.
Injuries and age are growing questions for left tackle Tyron Smith, who was a questionable choice for his ninth Pro Bowl this season. The 31-year-old has missed at least three games each of the past six seasons, with worrisome neck and back issues among the reasons.
“It’s no secret,” said right guard Zack Martin, the only Dallas lineman who qualifies as elite after getting his fifth All-Pro nod. “We need to get better. We got smacked in the mouth early today.”
The young playmakers on defense, led by NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Micah Parsons and league interceptions leader Trevon Diggs, give the Cowboys hope of getting better on the side of the ball that held them back during the Romo years.
Parsons' versatility at linebacker gives Dallas a great building block. The Cowboys might have a salary cap decision to make with defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who missed 10 games with a broken foot and hasn't made more than 6½ sacks in any of the three years since signing a $105 million, five-year contract.
BAD LOOK FOR PRESCOTT
The popular star has created a rare public relations problem with comments about the officiating after the game. When asked about objects, including water bottles, being thrown at Dallas players as they left the field, Prescott said it was “sad” fans would do that. After another reporter said it appeared officials were the targets, he said, “Credit to them then.”
Given another chance to answer a question about fans throwing objects at officials, Prescott said, “I guess it’s why the refs took off and got out of there so fast. I think everybody was upset about the way that this thing played out.”
Dallas has the 24th pick in the draft and other salary cap decisions besides Lawrence. Receiver Amari Cooper would offer plenty of cap savings if he were cut with three years remaining on a $100 million, five-year deal.