The Dallas Cowboys are on vacation after losing to the San Francisco 49ers at home on Sunday. It was a brutal loss, and not just because of the confusion of the final play that left everybody very upset. The Cowboys beat themselves over and over again. They had 15 penalties, most of which came on the offensive line. False start after false start consistently set the offense back. And for all the holding calls, the offensive front couldn't hold up against San Francisco and gave up an absurd 20 pressures.
The short of all that is there's plenty of blame to go around. The defense didn't provide much resistance against Jimmy Garoppolo, whose flaws are common knowledge at this point. Dak Prescott was remarkably average and missed a few key throws in the second half that could've swung the tide. But, as it often does, a large portion of that blame will fall upon the man in charge: Mike McCarthy.
McCarthy was not on the field and did not personally commit any of the 15 penalties that killed the Cowboys. But penalties are by and large a product of coaching. Sometimes teams will get screwed by the referees and there's nothing to do about it. That didn't happen yesterday. Most of Dallas' penalties were as egregious as this defensive holding call on Randy Gregory, where he just tackled an offensive lineman for no reason and to no effect.
Even in a critical spot, the referee just has to call that. Especially in the playoffs, a good officiating crew will let the 50/50 calls slide. This was a blatant offense, as were nearly all the penalties called on Dallas yesterday. Yet McCarthy, when given the opportunity to comment on this to media, blamed the referees.
This wasn't a new issue for Dallas, either. They were the most-penalized team in the NFL by a long shot all season long. That's coaching, plan and simple. Maybe it's not McCarthy's fault, exactly, since head coaches have to delegate to position coaches, but he's the one who hired everybody in charge of ensuring the Cowboys color between the lines.
Then there's everything else insane that happened and damaged the Cowboys' chances of winning. There was the fake punt, a brilliant call that gave the offense a shot of adrenaline when they needed it that was immediately ruined by his attempt to big-brain Kyle Shanahan that led to a delay of game. And, of course, the QB draw with 14 seconds left and no timeouts. There are reasonable arguments to be made that Kellen Moore is more responsible for that blunder than McCarthy, but both were on the headset to make the call and both let it happen.
The larger issue at hand is that it all felt like typical errors from McCarthy rather than a series of unexpected brain farts in high-pressure situations. Sometimes coaches lose their minds a little bit when the moment is big. It can be forgiven. But McCarthy was hired specifically because he knew what it took to get to the next level. He's succeeded in pressure-cooker situations. He has a Super Bowl ring. Despite all that, he has a very well-earned reputation of late-game mistakes that cost his team wins.
McCarthy is on the hot seat. It is impossible for him not to be after so many team mistakes that could have been prevented with better coaching and smarter decision-making. Jerry Jones said after the game that success must be had when the organization has a roster like it does.
Does this mean McCarthy's getting fired today? Not necessarily. But until he proves he can win in the postseason with this Cowboys team, he is on the hot seat. He got a free pass last year because of Prescott's injury. This year the team was largely healthy throughout and had a very good shot at winning their first playoff game since 2018. Yet they fell short-- and it felt entirely preventable.