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Tim Cowlishaw: Mike McCarthy's worst decision-making day buries Cowboys in last place

Tim Cowlishaw: Mike McCarthy's worst decision-making day buries Cowboys in last place

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ARLINGTON, Texas — If you could make COVID-19 go away for 30 minutes, clearly there are some wonderful life-changing developments you could hope to make happen. Let's put all of those aside and, on this particular Thanksgiving, just make one wish far down anyone's scale of real importance.

I wish we could have had Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, surrounded by the once familiar sea of microphones, taking questions on the decisions made by his head coach after a 41-16 romp by Washington at AT&T Stadium on Thursday.

In two matchups involving new coaches, Mike McCarthy's team hasn't stayed within three touchdowns of Ron Rivera's team yet.

McCarthy, who arrived here in January basically by coaching a team that won a Super Bowl 10 years ago when Aaron Rodgers was on fire, had done precious little to suggest he was more than a journeyman hire through the first 10 games. Against Washington, he took deserved criticism to a level I have never witnessed with any Cowboys coach, and that runs from Tom Landry in his final failing seasons to the 1-15 Cowboys under Jimmy, the 5-11 Campo years and then the lost decade under Jason Garrett.

If the only questionable decision was his fourth-quarter fourth-and-10 fake punt call, that still would stand as one of the most frighteningly ill-advised calls in team history. Sadly for Cowboys fans, there were plenty of eyebrow-raising decisions and lack-of-preparation moments (14 men on the field, anyone?) that preceded it on this disastrous afternoon.

Afterward, McCarthy was defiant in explaining why Dallas — trailing by just four points — ran a fake punt from its own 24 on fourth-and-10. The reverse to Cedrick Wilson (he was supposed to throw to punter Hunter Niswander but that never developed) fooled no one and lost a yard. Rookie Antonio Gibson ran 23 yards for a touchdown on the next play and suddenly it was 27-16, Washington.

"It was a solid play call," McCarthy said. Asked about the extraordinary gamble, the coach responded, "You won't get anywhere thinking about the negative all the time."

Oh, really? Then why does anyone EVER punt on fourth-and-10 deep in their own territory? I mean, what kind of negative thinking is a punt?

McCarthy rambled on about "film study," but who cares if you think the punter might get open against a certain formation? If you succeed, you keep driving on your side of the 50. If you fail, you give the game away.

"I clearly understood the situation when it was called," McCarthy said, implying he at least gets that there's a risk-reward consideration in football even if he's unfamiliar with how it works.

Think about questionable calls in the past. Think about the "Dumb and Dumber" headlines Barry Switzer generated when he went for it on fourth-and-1 in Dallas territory with the game's all-time leading rusher. This was fourth-and-10, and all sorts of things had to go right to gain a first down.

This was the third failed fake punt this season from John Fassel, the special teams "guru" McCarthy praised after the Rams made him readily available last offseason. He's tried a punter pass, a direct snap run and now a reverse pass. Apparently he has an entire brief case filled with these things. Maybe one of them works.

Before we forget, the Cowboys gambled in more conventional style on a fourth-and-1 at their own 34 in the first half. Instead of Andy Dalton sneaking for the first down (that would come later), offensive coordinator Kellen Moore called for a pass to CeeDee Lamb — a spectacular player, yes, but the least sure-handed wide receiver and leader in drops among that group — and he couldn't make the grab against tight coverage.

I'm not here to get on Moore. We all thought — and I'm sure the Jones family thought — McCarthy would be calling plays and bringing his offensive ingenuity to the club in 2020. After giving up the play-calling in Green Bay one season, he stated he never planned to do that again. Then he did it almost immediately after taking Jerry's money.

So if Moore makes mistakes as offensive coordinator, he's doing it with power McCarthy willingly ceded to him. That's on the head coach.

We've seen enough from last year to know Moore can direct an offense if he has the pieces. But with a team missing key components, the Cowboys needed the coaching staff to step up Thursday and — at least for a few days — grab a bit of first place in the division.

Instead, the Cowboys are alone in last. McCarthy guided them there Thursday with decisions and calls that shouldn't have been made at the junior college level.

We will get Jerry's delayed reaction in time. It's that instant reaction that would have been ... interesting.

Fave 5: Packers reporter Jason Wilde shares memorable stories from 2019

Fave 5: Packers reporter Jason Wilde shares memorable stories from 2019

We are sharing Wisconsin State Journal writers' favorite work from 2019. From Packers reporter Jason Wilde: When I started on the Packers beat for the State Journal in 1996 — the first of 13 consecutive seasons I covered them for the paper — I had three really great mentors in Green Bay: State Journal Packers beat writer Kent Youngblood, State Journal columnist Tom Oates, and Tom Mulhern, who was at the Appleton Post-Crescent at the time but would later spend more than two decades at the State Journal covering the Packers and University of Wisconsin football. Among the many lessons I learned from them at that young age of 24 was what an incredible responsibility we bore to chronicle the journey of each team we covered each season. Every journey was different, but covering it was no more or less important based on how the season went or how far the journey took that team. In ’96, it took the Packers to New Orleans and the Super Bowl XXXI title, the historic franchise’s first championship since the 1960s glory days.

Now in Year 4 of my second tour of duty covering the Packers for the State Journal thanks to sports editor Greg Sprout, the 2019 season has been — and continues to be, as the Packers ready themselves for an NFC Divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field on Jan. 12 — a fascinating journey. And it has nothing to do with the franchise celebrating its 100th birthday in August. (Although that was quite the accomplishment. And you should’ve seen the cake.)

From the team hiring Matt LaFleur as its new head coach, to the arrival of flamboyant and dominant pass rusher Za’Darius Smith (and his brother-from-another-mother fellow outside linebacker Preston Smith) in free agency, to 36-year-old Aaron Rodgers’ and the 40-year-old LaFleur’s work-in-progress offense and relationship, it’s all somehow gotten the Packers to a 13-3 record and into the postseason — something Super Bowl-winning head coaches Vince Lombardi, Mike Holmgren and Mike McCarthy couldn’t do in their first seasons.

For my five selections, I tried to pick stories that reflected key mileposts in the 2019 Packers’ journey.

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With the team having cut ties with Nick Perry, and Clay Matthews expected to depart in unrestricted free agency, the Packers are counting on the Smiths to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks and deliver more sacks than their two former first-round picks managed together last year.

editor's pick special section topical
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For the past three decades, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers have done their best to live up to Bart Starr’s ideals. And while that’s not always the easiest thing to do, their success has given the Packers something no other NFL team can claim in the past century: three Hall of Fame-level quarterbacks.

breaking topical
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A the Packers kicked off the NFL’s 100th season with a 10-3 victory over the Chicago Bears, Aaron Rodgers and the offense did just enough — and the defense carried the day.

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Now, it’s up to Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur — and the rest of the offense — to keep it going against in Sunday night's game against the Chiefs in Kansas City.

breaking topical
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Having already clinched a playoff berth coming into the game, the Packers now have put themselves in prime position for a first-round playoff bye — and perhaps even the NFC’s No. 1 overall seed — with a win next Sunday at Detroit.


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