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Mike McCarthy On Hilarious Final Play: That Wasn’t What We Meant To Do

9:00 AM EST on January 23, 2023

TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 16: Head coach Mike McCarthy of the Dallas Cowboys looks on against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter in the NFC Wild Card playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on January 16, 2023 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Trailing the San Francisco 49ers 19-12 with 45 seconds and zero timeouts on the board, the tired, overwhelmed Cowboys offense got the ball back on their own six-yard line. The Niners had spent the previous 59 minutes of game time battering the Cowboys on both sides of the ball, and on the penultimate Cowboys possession, Dak Prescott had thrown two incompletions and got sacked. Ninety-four yards under that sort of duress is a steep climb for any team, let alone one coached by Mike McCarthy.

McCarthy, famed for his late-game screw-ups and nontraditional understanding of the concept of linear time, really delivered in this one, though to be fair, he had some help. Dalton Schultz failed to get out of bounds after one catch, costing about eight seconds, or another play. Schultz then nullified another 15-yard reception by forgetting how many feet to put on the ground after a catch. Silly mistakes at the worst possible time aside, the Cowboys' situation was still fundamentally the same. They needed 76 yards. McCarthy dialed up a play that got them 10 percent of the way there.

The play here, in theory, was probably for WR KaVontae Turpin to lateral it to RB Malik Davis so he could run down the left sideline with a phalanx of O-line blockers, who were lined up wide. Maybe the play might have developed if Jimmie Ward didn't blow it up instantly, but also, if you need a full-on touchdown, you might as well throw the ball into the end zone. McCarthy, for unclear reasons, also had Ezekiel Elliott snap the ball, and he was instantly rolled over. McCarthy didn't offer any defense of his weird-ass play. "I really don't want to get into detail on it, but that obviously wasn't the plan," he said. Obviously, yeah. I also like the implication that he can't talk about what was supposed to happen because he might call that play again someday.

McCarthy, the football world's most reliable source of comedy, had earlier faced a fourth-down decision with just under three minutes left. The Cowboys had the ball on their own 18-yard line, facing fourth-and-10. The odds of converting were admittedly slim, though the 49ers were running the ball at will and had bled essentially an entire quarter's worth of game clock on their previous two drives. The mathematical models all agreed that the Cowboys should have gone for it, and to make matters worse, McCarthy's beloved punt team farted around and wasted almost the entire play clock before giving the ball back to the Niners.

The Cowboys have now lost seven straight divisional round games, the last two to the Shanahan 49ers under hilarious circumstances. If Jerry Jones is to be believed, McCarthy could get the chance to go for three in a row, as the Cowboys owner said the loss changes nothing about McCarthy's job status. He also said he was "sick" over the loss, and that "we've got a locker room full of sick players." I can think of one pretty painless cure, Jerry.

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