FRISCO, Texas -- Credit can be intoxicating.
By ripping off three straight wins without Dak Prescott, the Cowboys have surprised many folks, if not themselves.
Cooper Rush is getting his deserved share of the credit for how he has performed in replacing Prescott as the starting quarterback. Dan Quinn’s defense has put up numbers not seen around the Cowboys since the first edition of Doomsday in the early 1970s. Micah Parsons is considered one of the best defensive players in the NFL.
Well down the credit list is the coach, Mike McCarthy.
“I don’t know how you could say enough about how he’s handled this team initially starting out,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “It’s like [a] picture to me. A boxer, a fighter, walking out and just getting hit with the best shot you absolutely could right on the chin. First step out. How do you get that all back together? Give him his due. He has managed to right the ship, steady it, and then progressively get this team in shape to play without Dak.
“That’s a teamwide thing. I think it would be an injustice not to give him the kind of credit as head coach for getting this thing right and getting it to this point. What’s happened over the last three weeks with the makeup of our team, and I think our personnel and potential with the makeup of this team, these three games got us back in the hunt.”
In one of their last practices of training camp, the Cowboys lost their Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith until December with a torn left hamstring. In the season opener, they lost their quarterback, Prescott, to a fractured right thumb, and that wasn’t all. Jayron Kearse, their leading tackler a season ago, sprained a ligament in his left knee, and left guard Connor McGovern suffered an ankle injury.
Yet the Cowboys are 3-1 in consecutive years for the first time since 2007-08.
Now imagine if the Cowboys were 1-3 after four games. Or worse.
McCarthy’s job security would be under even more scrutiny. There might be calls for Quinn to move from defensive coordinator to head coach. Former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton’s shadow would grow heavier over the organization.
Instead McCarthy has provided a steady hand to a team that is playing its backup quarterback, a rookie left tackle, three different left guards, untested wide receivers behind CeeDee Lamb, rookie tight ends, a kicker who was signed late in training camp and, against the Washington Commanders on Sunday, had to use a fifth-round pick, DaRon Bland, at nickel cornerback when Jourdan Lewis came up injured in warmups. And Bland had an interception.
“He’s just so steady,” Quinn said. “He doesn’t ride the roller coaster, the up and downs. You know what you’re going to get every day. That’s a good quality to have from your leader to make sure in the tough games he’s there. In the ones you’re doing well, he’s there. But he’s just so consistent a person for all of us. Not everybody has that. Through the storms he can kind of see right through it and keep everybody on a level field. I think that’s probably one of his superpowers that probably doesn’t get spoken about enough.”
Given the structure favored by Jones, where McCarthy is more CEO than in the muck, credit is not something that goes his way often. He doesn’t call the plays, like he did with the Green Bay Packers. Quinn has autonomy over the defense. Special teams coordinator John Fassel has his say and is involved in game management.
The same thing happened to McCarthy’s predecessor, Jason Garrett, after he was forced to give up the playcalling after the 2012 season.
When the Cowboys made the playoffs in 2014, ’16 and ’18, credit was attributed to: QB Tony Romo, RB DeMarco Murray, TE Jason Witten, WR Dez Bryant, the offensive line, OC Scott Linehan’s playcalling, an opportunistic defense, Prescott’s mistake-free play, RB Ezekiel Elliott, the trade for WR Amari Cooper, VP of player personnel Will McClay’s ability to find talent and Jones’ general managing.
Garrett was just the guy clapping.
And now McCarthy is being treated the same way. He just holds the playcall sheet and wears the headphones.
The credit is going to coordinators Quinn and Kellen Moore, Rush’s mistake-free play, Elliott’s running with Tony Pollard, solid offensive line play (even without Tyron Smith), Parsons’ wizardry, DE DeMarcus Lawrence’s overall play, effective special teams, McClay’s ability to find talent and Jones’ general managing.
Last week, McCarthy was asked if Rush’s success is due to his ability to avoid sacks and not commit a lot of turnovers, which turned to a light moment from the coach.
"Well, I know you're struggling not to just say it was coaching,” McCarthy feigned. “I don't want any credit, God forbid. Let's not change that now.”
Maybe it will change if the Cowboys continue to win, but McCarthy is secure in who he is.
“It’s always nice when people say nice things about you, but I think this -- particularly my relationship with Jerry, you know, I’ve always enjoyed our conversations privately, and I’ll always have walked away from those conversations with a lot of confidence,” he said. “And I think it’s good to have that type of relationship. So, my point is, he says nice things to me privately too.”