The truly bad teams in any given NFL season usually have multiple weeks to come to terms with their fate and, in turn, multiple weeks to plot the next course after the last game is played. For playoff teams and/or those that enter the final weekend with hope of getting there, the end comes suddenly.
It leaves a disappointed owner (or, in the case of the Cowboys, a disappointed owner and General Manager) with much to process, quickly. What changes need to be made? Do big changes need to happen?
Dallas offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is in demand. He could, in theory, become the head coach of another team. Would Jerry Jones decide after two seasons to move on from McCarthy and to elevate Moore?
Alternatively, would Jones make what some regard as a loose, informal succession plan more concrete, giving Moore a big raise and vowing to make Moore the next head coach? (This was at one point a permissible exception to the Rooney Rule; we’re currently trying to determine whether the rule has changed and, if so, when it happened. Here’s an item from 2018 on the topic.)
On Monday, Cowboys executive V.P. Stephen Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas that McCarthy “absolutely” will return, that Jones is “very confident” of this.
Still, Jerry Jones should at least engage in a detached, dispassionate, and objective assessment of McCarthy, wherever it may lead. Teams do it all the time with players. Coaches should not be immune from that, especially after a year that Jones will remember as a major disappointment.
At times, the Cowboys looked like a Super Bowl contender. At other times, they didn’t. On Sunday, the home team slipped into a 16-point hole. Although the Cowboys eventually had a chance to win the game, the chance became squandered by an ill-advised decision to call a quarterback draw with 17 seconds on the clock and, in the end, not enough time to snap the ball again and spike it.
The season came down to one play. The play wasn’t yanked randomly from the playbook. McCarthy selected something the team practiced weekly (or, as the case may be, weakly). It was a baked-in strategic decision to not, for example, throw a quick pass to the vacated middle of the field and then set up for a snap and a spike. The Cowboys consciously decided that, in the situation that arose late in Sunday’s game, they’d have the quarterback run the ball and that hope through the ensuing chaos that enough time would remain on the clock for one shot at the end zone.
Did McCarthy make a fatal mistake in picking that play or in how he coached it? How culpable is Moore for the blunder? The Joneses know enough people around the league that these questions discreetly can be asked. What would other teams do in these situations? Short throw and a spike? Two Hail Mary attempts? What did the Cowboys do wrong? Who’s to blame for it?
It’s an important, and fair, exercise for any team that desperately wants to get to the Super Bowl (or, as the case may be, to the NFC Championship for the first time since 1995) and that has reason to worry that things aren’t sufficiently buttoned up.
Indeed, what other flaws exist in the team’s overall approach? Is the handling of the final play the only thing that needs to be tweaked, or is it a symptom of deeper flaws?
These are fair questions to ask. And it’s fair for Cowboys fans to expect that the questions are asked. If, in the end, an objective decision is made to stick with McCarthy, so be it. But for the same reason that the Cowboys shouldn’t blindly kick McCarthy to the curb, they also shouldn’t ignore the manner in which the 2021 season came crashing down.
Otherwise, they may be setting themselves up for the 2022 season to come crashing down suddenly and unexpectedly, too.