Mike McCarthy calls parts of the season segments.
Segment 2 of this season ended Thursday night in New Orleans. The Cowboys held off the Saints 27-17 to end a two-game losing streak and go into an extended break feeling better about themselves.
Yet McCarthy called the final portion of Segment 2 brutal to watch because he wasn’t in the Superdome. The Cowboys’ head coach was in a hotel room yelling and screaming at his flat screen TV and hoping other guests wouldn’t call the front desk about some strange man making a bunch of noise.
McCarthy watched from afar because he tested positive for COVID-19 and will continue to conduct business virtually until he is cleared to return to The Star.
McCarthy said he was proud of his team’s production in New Orleans. It’s a football team reeling with a COVID-19 outbreak, costing them not only McCarthy but a starting right tackle, an offensive line coach, two strength and conditioning coaches and two assistant coaches.
“It was brutal just not to be a part of it,” McCarthy said Friday afternoon from a hotel room. “I had great confidence in the preparation and saw the communication up into the game. I think everybody took care of their prep phase, and I was very proud and pleased with the performance, energy and the level emotionally. I thought our guys were definitely ready to play and played hard throughout the contest.”
The COVID diagnosis left McCarthy helpless to watch defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who led the Falcons to a Super Bowl during six seasons as their head coach, take over.
Quinn acted as a game manager/defensive coordinator. He utilized assistant coaches in different ways, such as tight ends coach Lunda Wells morphing into an offensive line coach with Joe Philbin out because of COVID-19.
Will McClay, the Cowboys’ vice president of player personnel, moved from assisting Quinn in the press box to the field for Thursday’s game.
The plan McCarthy formulated worked.
The defense forced four turnovers, getting three interceptions in the fourth quarter, and a dormant run game found life when Tony Pollard scooted down the Cowboys’ sideline for a 58-yard touchdown to push a three-point lead to 20-10.
Cornerback Trevon Diggs stepped up again, snagging his ninth interception of the season with 4:42 left to seal the game. When defensive tackle Carlos Watkins picked off a pass and took it 29 yards for a touchdown, the “Who Dat?” cry of Saints fans was extinguished.
“It’s definitely an early Christmas present,” Watkins said of the pick-six. “It’s every fat guy’s dream, to get a pick and make it to the end zone. It’s every guy’s dream.”
McCarthy never dreamed he would miss an NFL game. Never. But here was McCarthy with his cellphone buzzing with text messages from family and friends wanting to chat about his team.
He turned the phone off, trying to concentrate on how his group fought through another round of adversity. He believes it can only strengthen a team’s resolve, and with the Cowboys completing Segment 2 by playing three games in a 12-day period, this was a test they passed.
“You need these wins,” McCarthy said. “You need these adversity opportunities and experiences and carry it forward because obviously the toughest football’s in front of you. It always is. December football is always what it comes down [to] because obviously that’s the launching pad I think you have to come off of to be a playoff team and to excel in the playoffs.
“I love all the adversity moments. I think not only does it tell you a lot about your team, it gives you the experiences that you can’t really create in practice and training environments. So it happens every year. It’s not like you can avoid it.”
The Cowboys have four of their five remaining games against the NFC East. It’s a chance to clinch the division title and think about playoff seeds. Three of the games are on the road, starting next Sunday in Landover, Md., against Washington.
“It’s huge, we know it’s important,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “We got to win this division. We got to continue to establish who we are and who we are in this division. We got every team coming up, Washington twice, it’s important for us to get healthy, get rested and make sure we hit this the right way.”
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