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The McCarthy Chronicles: Cowboys show up ready to play, back up coach’s guarantee

The final score distracted from a very strong game for Dallas.

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Football Team Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Promises made, promises kept.

Mike McCarthy had a rare moment in the spotlight for something he said leading up to the Cowboys’ road game against the Washington Football Team after he sort of guaranteed a victory. McCarthy clarified that his mindset is to always expect a win, but it nonetheless led to an entertaining trade of barbs between himself and Washington head coach Ron Rivera, who apparently made a big speech to his players about psychological warfare.

It didn’t take long before people came out of the woodwork to cast shame on McCarthy for doing this. People cited Washington’s four-game win streak and the Cowboys’ own recent struggles as evidence that McCarthy was setting Dallas up for a big letdown.

Then the game began, and the Cowboys were up 18-0 by the end of the first quarter. They expanded the lead to 24-0 by halftime. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke was constantly under pressure, and there was little the Football Team could do. While an improbable series of events made the game close in the final five minutes of the game, this was really never that close at all.

Win probability, DAL @ WFT Week 14 courtesy of rbsdm.com

The Dallas defense continued their recent streak of dominance, sacking Heinicke and Kyle Allen five total times and generating four takeaways. Washington came away with three touchdowns on the day. One came on the pick six late in the game, and the other was Cam Sims’ highly improbable snag on a deep shot that was initially called an incomplete pass because it just looked like he didn’t come down with it.

Aside from those two single plays, Washington managed just one touchdown on their only drive of the day to last more than four minutes. And while it wasn’t a banner day for the Dallas offense, they did have some moments where they looked like themselves. Two of their first three drives featured early first downs, efficient plays, and coming away with points.

Things ground to a halt offensively in the second half, which was a mix of Ezekiel Elliott sitting for most of it as he plays through a banged up knee and simply trying to kill the clock with a big lead. Neither of those things are usually the case for this team. But with no Tony Pollard, the Cowboys relied on special teamer Corey Clement and even CeeDee Lamb to carry their rushing attack. And we’ve seen McCarthy go for the kill plenty times this year (see: Eagles, Panthers, Giants, Falcons) but playing on the road in the cold weather late in the year against a team that was already getting a little too physical probably led to the more conservative approach.

What was usual behavior from this head coach - who made his return to the sideline after missing the last game with COVID-19 - was having his team fully prepared to play this game. With the exception of the Broncos game, McCarthy’s Cowboys have not looked unprepared at any point this year. Nobody can complain about losing to the Buccaneers in Week 1, and the loss in Kansas City looks a lot more digestible now that the Chiefs have won six in a row. And we all know why Dallas lost on Thanksgiving.

There isn’t really a question that Dallas let up a little in the second half, and given the circumstances one could easily argue that was the right call. But in the first half, when they were going at full speed, this team utterly dominated Washington. Let’s not pretend that the Football Team - who had to pull off four straight wins just to reach .500 - is good. But they won the division last year and received a lot of hype during the offseason, in addition to the week leading up to this game.

It wasn’t even close. The Cowboys reminded everyone that when they’re locked in, they are the class of their division. And McCarthy had these guys locked all the way in to start this game. Obviously you want to see the offense string together more first downs and touchdowns, but this team - for all their lopsided victories this year - has never won a road game by a large margin. Their biggest margin of victory on the road was over the Saints last week, when they won by 10.

Against a rising division rival, on the road, in cold weather, entering the home stretch of the year, the Cowboys were utterly blowing this team out of the water. McCarthy knows the importance of stacking wins this time of year, with a career 44-20 record in December and January, and he had his team ready to go. As players get healthier, and this offense gets its groove back with those three wide receivers back together again, McCarthy will continue to have his ‘Boys ready to go this year.

Yes, that’s another guarantee.