News broke roughly an hour before kickoff of the Cowboys’ game against the Washington Football Team that Dallas had clinched the NFC East crown by way of a strength of victory tiebreaker due to the Raiders beating the Broncos. That immediately caused concern among some Cowboys fans that the team wouldn’t be as locked in for the game they still had to play. It was a fair concern, as we’ve seen similar things happen before.
However, Mike McCarthy wasn’t the coach back then. He is now. A consistent theme of these weekly McCarthy Chronicles pieces has been how well the veteran head coach prepares his team for each game. They were right there in losses to both the Buccaneers and Raiders, and were consistently in striking distance of the Chiefs despite never getting things going on offense. Of course, the Broncos game remains the outlier, but otherwise we’ve seen a Cowboys team every week that’s ready to go out and fight for four straight quarters and do whatever it takes to win.
Sunday night was just the most vivid reminder of that.
Having gone almost a full calendar month since playing a game in Dallas, the Cowboys returned to AT&T Stadium as winners of three straight on the road for a prime time showdown with last year’s division champion. Those wins, coupled with meltdowns from the Buccaneers and Cardinals, had moved the Cowboys up to the second seed. The Packers’ narrow win on Saturday meant that Dallas couldn’t move up with a win, but they could sure move down with a loss.
That knowledge spurred an utter onslaught from the Cowboys the likes of which we haven’t seen since their game against Atlanta, when the team needed to prove the Broncos loss was an outlier. This time, they were proving that a division title isn’t enough. The Cowboys have their sights set on the Super Bowl, and want nothing less. That means a division title is expected, so clinching it before even playing a game was nothing to celebrate.
McCarthy’s team was ready right from the gate as we’ve seen all year. Two weeks after they went up 24-0 at halftime, the Cowboys went up 21-0 after the first quarter. That featured two touchdown drives from the offense that looked like the group we once knew and loved, as well as DeMarcus Lawrence’s first career pick-six.
Just like the NFC East crown, though, it wasn’t enough for this team. The offense scored three more touchdowns in the second quarter, including a toss to Terence Steele at the goal line, and Dallas entered the halftime break with a 42-7 lead. I’d love to hear what Washington head coach Ron Rivera said at halftime, because what do you say? The game was over, and even after pumping the brakes in the second half Dallas still outscored Washington 14-7 thanks to a blocked punt and Malik Turner’s now-patented garbage time highlights.
In the end, the Cowboys notched a jaw-dropping 56-14 victory. Lost in it all was the fact that this made Dallas 4-0 in the month of December, a sterling record at a crucial point in the season. The last time this team went undefeated in December was the 2014 season, which was perhaps the most Super Bowl caliber team Dallas has had since their days of actually winning Super Bowls. Of course, that team’s season ended in Green Bay across from Mike McCarthy.
That won’t be the case this year, if only because McCarthy now coaches the Cowboys. They still need either the Vikings or Lions to beat the Packers in order to eliminate the possibility of traveling to Lambeau Field in the playoffs. Dallas also needs to win out against two teams currently slotted to go to the playoffs as Wild Card teams, but the McCarthy effect makes those games a lot less concerning.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones talking about head coach Mike McCarthy on @1053thefan: “He is the difference-maker, and that needs to be recognized. I’m really proud of him.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 28, 2021
At a time when the other top NFC teams are struggling - the Buccaneers got shut out at home a week ago, the Cardinals have lost three straight, and the Packers have won their last two games by a total of three points - the Cowboys seem to be playing their best football. Even if it doesn’t net them a first-round bye, McCarthy’s team has shown all year that they’re comfortable beating you anywhere. It’s been a while since we saw a Cowboys team quite like this.