For the second straight postseason, the Cowboys lost to the 49ers. For the second straight postseason, the game ended with a questionable offensive decision from coach Mike McCarthy, an expert in offense. But the curious effort to set up a Stanford band-style play that never even got going will not have serious consequences for the man who drew it up.
Asked by reporters after the 19-12 loss whether the outcome changes anything for owner Jerry Jones about McCarthy’s status, Jones said, “No. No. No, not at all.”
Last year’s wild-card loss to the 49ers ended with a quarterback draw that was aimed at giving Dallas a realistic final shot at the end zone. But the execution didn’t account for the fact that the umpire had to get through the quarterback and the center in order to set the ball before it was snapped and spiked, ostensibly to stop the clock with at least one second left.
This year, in lieu of a Hail Mary (which had a very small chance of succeeding given that the play started 76 yards from paydirt), McCarthy had a unique formation aimed at sparking a parade of laterals, with running back Ezekiel Elliott serving as the center and then, presumably, one of the men to get the ball as part of a chain of hot-potato pitches.
But Zeke was blown up and receiver KaVontae Turpin was tackled almost immediately, before even one lateral could be attempted. Thus, no matter how it looked on the whiteboard, it was a disaster on the field.
Beyond the design and execution of the final play, failure of coaching and attention to detail emerged twice on the drive, with tight end Dalton Schultz both failing to get out of bounds properly after making a catch and then getting out of bounds a little too quickly, before he got his second foot down after securing a reception.
Yes, it’s on the player when mistakes like that happen. It’s also on the coaching staff to hammer those details into the brains of the players in order to ensure that, when everything matters most, everything that needs to happen happens like clockwork.
Regardless, based on what Jones said after the game, McCarthy will be back for a fourth season as coach of the Cowboys.
The thing about Jerry Jones is that he will completely, totally, and unconditionally support a player or a coach until the moment he no longer does. And that moment can, in theory, come at any time.