Facing his first major decision as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Mike McCarthy came up short – literally.
Trailing 20-17 with just under 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter on Sunday, the Cowboys faced 4th-and-3 from the Rams' 11-yard line. Dallas could have kicked a chip-shot field goal and tied the game.
Instead, McCarthy went for it.
Dak Prescott completed a pass to CeeDee Lamb, but the rookie wide receiver was tackled short of the sticks. The Cowboys didn’t threaten again.
What was McCarthy thinking in that moment?
“The only reason Mike McCarthy went for it on 4th-and-3 is because Jason Garrett wouldn’t have gone for it on 4th-and-3,” CBSSports.com NFL senior writer Will Brinson said on The DA Show. “That’s his analytics: ‘What would Jason Garrett do? I’m going to do the opposite.’”
Garrett, the former Cowboys coach, was often criticized for playing not to lose. McCarthy played to win – but lost anyway.
“That was not a good effort,” Brinson said of the Cowboys’ performance. “I thought that they ran the ball too much on first down, they didn’t utilize their receivers in the way that they should, and they were just out-coached and outmatched by the Rams. I will say, though, I think the Cowboys qualify as a team with a lot of transition in a weird offseason in Week 1. I think the Colts and the Bucs and the Cowboys – and maybe a couple other teams – really just fall into [that category]. If they had just had another couple of weeks of offseason training and then a couple of games of preseason to get warmed up and to sort of be on the same page, [the outcome might have been different].”
Amari Cooper caught a game-high 10 balls for 81 yards, while CeeDee Lamb (five catches, 59 yards) and Michael Gallup (three catches, 50 yards) also contributed. Ezekiel Elliott, meanwhile, rushed 22 times for 96 yards and a score and caught three passes for 31 yards and a score.
“Dak and Amari Cooper have a reasonable amount of reps together. Dak and Michael Gallup, same deal,” Brinson said. “But CeeDee Lamb is brand new. That 4th-and-3 play they ran, they ran this mesh concept, the tight end didn’t get high enough, and then Dak calls CeeDee Lamb to run underneath the sticks and be short of the first down. Then the timing was’t right with Dak on the throw. You sort of wonder, all those factors . . . if that’s a team that’s running that same play in Week 10, does the tight end clear enough space? Does CeeDee Lamb get north of the sticks on his route? Does Dak get the ball out faster because he knows CeeDee Lamb and he trusts CeeDee Lamb?
“I think that is a viable case,” Brinson continued. “Maybe you look at Mike McCarthy and say, ‘Dude, you got to kick the ball and tie the game this early in the season with these guys not on the same page.’ It’s a little bit of hindsight. I think Dallas should be a little bit panicked but will probably be fine because that division is awful.”
The Cowboys (0-1) will look to rebound at home this Sunday against the Falcons (0-1). Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. ET.