Mike McCarthy stands by OT Gamble, but Cowboys’ loss to Packers sends a glaring message about postseason viability

Mike McCarthy stands by OT Gamble, but Cowboys’ loss to Packers sends a glaring message about postseason viability

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GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — Micah Parsons called his teammates’ performance, or lack thereof, “disgusting.”

Dallas Cowboys team owner Jerry Jones referenced the “frustration” six times in a span of 4 minutes and 2 seconds.

Quarterback Dak Prescott sat on the stool in his visitors’ closet with his head bowed and his eyes blank.

And head coach Mike McCarthy – in his third year at the helm of the Cowboys, returning to the house where he was in charge for 13 years – declined to elaborate further on nostalgia.

“I’m not trying to be rude,” McCarthy said after a 31-28 overtime loss to the Green Bay Packers. “I am humble.”

The Cowboys fell short in two significant areas on Sunday. They failed to secure McCarthy a win to erase memories of a brutal 2018 midseason layoff, and they failed to show the NFL that they might, just might, be for the first time in more than two decades enough of a complete and disciplined team, squads are threatening in the postseason.

At 6-3 and third in the NFC East, the Cowboys still have a 95% chance of making the playoffs according to FiveThirtyEight’s playoff prediction model. But Sunday’s defeat raised big questions about whether they were likely to progress.

“It’s bad,” said Parsons, the pick for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. “You have to be able to finish games in this league, especially against guys like [Aaron] Rodgers. You have to be able to finish.

“Ready, done, done – that’s what this game is about.”

Aaron Rodgers chats with his former head coach Mike McCarthy ahead of Sunday's kickoff between the Packers and the Cowboys.  McCarthy wasn't in such a happy mood after the game after Dallas lost in overtime.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Aaron Rodgers chats with his former head coach Mike McCarthy ahead of Sunday’s kickoff between the Packers and the Cowboys. McCarthy wasn’t in such a happy mood after the game after Dallas lost in overtime. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

uncompleted task

The Cowboys were confident when they leveled the game just before halftime and confident when they forged a 14-point lead in the third quarter. Even as the Packers whittled away at that edge — eventually leveling the game at 2:33 to play in regulation — the Cowboys believed their balanced offensive attack and dominant pass rush could handle the Packers’ surge.

In overtime, Tony Pollard bit off two 7-yard runs. Prescott and CeeDee Lamb connected on a crosser route, similar to the play they botched on Prescott’s second second-quarter interception. And then the cowboy system went awry.

Pollard’s chain-moving 6-yard run was recalled when rookie receiver Jalen Tolbert was flagged for offside, injuring the neutral zone. Cowboys RB3 Malik Davis’ impressive 16-yard cut was negated by left guard Connor McGovern’s hold flag. Prescott found tight end Dalton Schultz to narrow a second and 19 to a third and 3. But then the attack, having passed 200 yards on the ground, tried to throw, Lamb grazed the ball with both hands but ultimately failed to save the crosser. McCarthy signaled the Cowboys to try fourth and third, but Prescott’s last-ditch effort under heavy pressure failed.

A red-faced McCarthy slammed his headset on the floor.

“I’m obviously very frustrated with the way the game ended,” McCarthy said. “We need those tight games to get where you’re going. I thought we were in total control but obviously in overtime you know the penalties and stuff.”

McCarthy’s volume and intensity uncharacteristically escalated with each of his next three words.

“Very very, very frustrating,” he said. “But you have to overcome these things.”

McCarthy reiterated his belief that they “had to try” on the fourth descent, a decision he made on the second descent after watching the shaky, penalty-plagued drive unfold.

“So our feeling was to just keep playing,” he said. “We had good talks. I agree with the decision.”

After two carries and a 36-yard completion on an RPO, the Packers comfortably reached field goal range.

Rodgers downplayed the win over his former coach and checked the box score when he claimed, “I don’t think Mike was suitable.” Even so, Rodgers said as he forged a dangerous connection with a young receiver and the five-game -Skid snapped that there were “many demons exorcised today”. He didn’t just silence internal doubts after bouncing from a one-touchdown, three-interception loss against the Detroit Lions to a three-touchdown, no-interception win over the Cowboys.

“That little voice in your head trying to push you off that confident perch you’re standing on?” Rodgers said. “I threw that voice back to hell and had a good performance today.”

A weekly weakness

Rodgers made well-timed, efficient throws, including the first touchdown of his career, second-round rookie receiver Christian Watson — and his second and third. He burned the Cowboys with hits from 58 and 39 yards. Also in overtime, Rodgers’ execution of the RPO to find receiver Allen Lazard for a big win was masterful.

But the main problem with the Cowboys defense wasn’t Rodgers’ 14 completions or 224 yards. They couldn’t withstand the Packers’ rally for the most part because they allowed Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon tandem to hit them for more than 200 rushing yards and nearly 5.5 yards per carry.

In the fourth quarter, that punishment reached a tenor of 8.2 yards per pop. The Cowboys couldn’t force third and long situations, the Packers neutralized the pass rush that carried the unit. Dallas’ run defense was already a weak link to come into play, and the team knows they face a three-week stretch that has seen the Minnesota Vikings’ Dalvin Cook, the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley and the Indianapolis Colts’ Jonathan Taylor appear, are exposed .

“No one is going to allow us to just rush, no one is going to allow us to just be who we are,” Parsons said. “That’s why we have to put out this fire. Until we put out this fire, we will just keep seeing it.”

The Chicago Bears also ran 200 yards in the Cowboys’ last game.

“If people want to continue to do their own thing, we’re going to deal with that all year and we’re never going to be the team that we want to be,” Parsons said. “We have to get that out. We must be accountable. We have to stay in our gaps and stop the run. As soon as we stop doing that, we can become what we are again.

“But until we do that, it’s going to be a long year.”

Or maybe shorter in a way.

Because the Cowboys know their inability to fill the barrel will preclude any deep postseason success. And a regular season run has lost its importance.

Aaron Jones had a colorful TD celebration against the Cowboys Sunday night at Lambeau Field.  Jones ran for 138 yards on 24 carries.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Aaron Jones had a colorful TD celebration against the Cowboys Sunday night at Lambeau Field. Jones ran for 138 yards on 24 carries. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Dallas has rarely been terrible in recent years, but has consistently been mediocre in the 26 seasons since the franchise last reached a Super Bowl or even an NFC Championship game. Dominant regular-season wins against smaller teams — think their 49-29 win over the Bears two weeks ago — have created facades of confidence that work against top quarterbacks and in hostile street environments like last month’s visit to Philadelphia and this weekend to be tested at Green Bay.

The Packers have now beaten the Cowboys in nine of their last ten games, including playoffs. Dallas doesn’t have enough cushion to withstand the offensive’s mistimed and miscommunicated interceptions, leaking yards, and defense’s mismatched run pursuits.

In a Cowboys tradition against Rodgers, Dallas played hard but didn’t leave much room for error. It’s something “this team needs to overcome,” Jerry Jones said.

“We wanted to get it for Mike, but more importantly, we wanted to put another brick where we’re going and we didn’t,” Prescott said. “We didn’t take that step that we talked about.”

Follow Yahoo Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein

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