Mike McCarthy did his best during Monday’s media availability. Bombarded with questions about facing his former team this week, McCarthy said all the right things. Playing in Green Bay is “just another game” and he wants to win this one as much as the other games. McCarthy did get emotional when thinking back on his time in Wisconsin, but the coach said nothing to indicate this matchup meant anything more than usual.
But we know the truth. This game means just a little bit more to McCarthy. It means more for Cowboys fans, too, who have had their fair share of encounters with the Packers; most of those are best left in the past, of course. But McCarthy really, really wants to win this one. The players seem to know it, too:
Jayron Kearse on Mike McCarthy's return to GB: "We want to get this one for our head coach being that he was there for some years, won a championship there and just going out here taking care of business for him, that’s enough motivation for us to go out there and do something."— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) November 7, 2022
McCarthy, of course, was the head coach in Green Bay for 13 seasons, as well as one year as the quarterbacks coach a few years prior to that. McCarthy won 135 games between the regular season and postseason and also won the Super Bowl in the stadium he now calls home. There’s a street outside of Lambeau Field that bears his name. Even his wife is from Green Bay.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. Despite McCarthy’s success, there were always reports of friction between him and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. McCarthy certainly wasn’t the only one Rodgers has quarreled with over the years, but he was definitely the one that stuck around the longest.
However, when the relationship between the two soured to the point that it affected the on-field results, Packers ownership sided with the player. That resulted in McCarthy being fired during the 2018 season, something he later admitted wasn’t handled well. Not long after the firing, an extensive profile in Bleacher Report detailed all of the factors that ultimately led to McCarthy’s departure from the franchise he had brought back to the Super Bowl.
Again, McCarthy said all the right things on Monday. When asked directly about Rodgers, the coach had nothing but praise for Rodgers. He clearly has no interest in providing the Packers, who are now on their first five-game losing streak in 14 years, any additional motivation.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: “I have nothing but love and gratitude for him. Whole lot of appreciation. He made me a much better coach. I’m looking forward to seeing him.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) November 7, 2022
It doesn’t really matter what McCarthy says, though; everyone and their mother knows that the fractured relationship between him and Rodgers was a major factor in McCarthy’s eventual ousting. When McCarthy got hired in Dallas, the initial reaction was to repeat a frequent talking point from Packers fans that McCarthy was a mediocre coach who had been holding Rodgers back.
That criticism has continued as McCarthy has been with the Cowboys despite the fact that the Packers have failed to even reach the Super Bowl, let alone win one, since they got rid of the coach who was supposedly holding Rodgers back. Granted, the Packers have had success, winning 13 games in each of the last three years; still, they’re 2-3 in the postseason over that span.
Now, McCarthy gets his first chance at facing this team since getting fired. He’s sat back and watched the drama around Rodgers continue to swirl the last few years - maybe it wasn’t McCarthy’s fault after all - and now the Packers are sitting at 3-6 and in serious danger of missing the playoffs altogether.
On the other side, McCarthy has his Cowboys flying high. Dallas is 6-2 and feeling confident after getting Dak Prescott back just two games ago. They’re also coming off a bye week that gave this team the perfect opportunity to rest several injured players. For his career, McCarthy is 11-4 coming out of the bye and he’s 2-0 with the Cowboys.
Making it 3-0 this week against the Packers would be a massive moment of validation for McCarthy. Not only would it give him a head-to-head win over his former team and propel the Cowboys that much closer to the playoffs, but it would extend the Packers’ current losing streak to six games. That never happened under McCarthy’s watch, and it hasn’t happened in Green Bay since 1988. To set such a black mark for this organization while playing against McCarthy would certainly be a statement.
McCarthy is never going to admit that this is a revenge game for him, or even that he would take joy in having his moment over this team. He’s more focused on where he’s at now, and rightfully so. But this week’s matchup is a very unique opportunity for McCarthy to shift the narrative around him and his coaching ability.