There are many takeaways and points of criticism for the Dallas Cowboys after the 42-10 thrashing they just took in San Francisco. But in a year where the futures of head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Dak Prescott were major offseason topics, the spotlight is rightly on these key figures and the way they failed the team against the 49ers.
There’s no denying that both McCarthy and Prescott have been successful overall in their roles. McCarthy has won 60% of the regular season games, 69% if you throw out 2020, since becoming head coach. He’s led Dallas to two straight playoff appearances and a division title in the last two years.
Prescott has a similar track record, winning 63% of his games since arriving in 2016. The Cowboys have gone to the playoffs four times in his seven years and won three division titles. He’s put up big numbers at times and maintained impressive efficiency overall by many basic and advanced metrics.
What these guys do on average, week to week, isn’t the problem. But if the Cowboys were satisfied with regular season wins and the occasional box of NFC East Champions hats, they could’ve stuck with Jason Garrett. They could save a lot of money and made Cooper Rush the starting quarterback.
Hiring Mike McCarthy was supposed to elevate the Cowboys from Garrett’s pattern. Paying Dak Prescott a ton of money was supposed to mean that you don’t get rolled by the NFC elite. And sure, both have had their moments. Shoving Tom Brady’s old bones into retirement last year was great! Consistently beating the Eagles in the regular season is fun. These guys wouldn’t still be here if they were utter failures.
But what happened on Sunday just can’t keep happening. The 49ers are legit, no doubt. And sometimes, certain teams just have your number and are a horrible matchup. But Dallas never looked right from the opening snap on either side of the ball. It was a team-wide letdown from QB1 all the way down the depth chart, which is just as damning for McCarthy, Dan Quinn, Brian Schottenheimer, and everyone who was charged with getting these guys ready for a big test.
Yes, the Cowboys are still 3-2 and on pace to make the playoffs. But this game, coupled with the ugly Week 3 loss in Arizona, says that Dallas is still a second-tier squad in the NFC. Even that might be generous right now; the Lions, Bucs, and Seahawks probably don’t lose to the Cardinals or let the 49ers embarrass them the way the Cowboys did.
Again, moving on from Jason Garrett and committing to Dak Prescott were supposedly about finally doing something bigger. No more participation trophies, bronze medals, or even silver. McCarthy and Prescott were supposed to be the foundation of a championship team, and right now Dallas can’t even win its own division.
For some, the frustration with McCarthy goes all the way back to the initial hire in 2020. If you are of the mind that McCarthy was a decent coach who was lucky to have Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers most of his career, days like we just had validate that perception. And in the same breath, it’s a reminder that Prescott isn’t one of those elite quarterbacks and could ultimately hinder the Cowboys from their one true goal.
After Week 2 and consecutive blowout wins over the New York teams, we discussed how a seemingly special defense could carry Dallas this year. But in two of the last three games, Dan Quinn’s crew have struggled. Losing Trevon Diggs hurt but it doesn’t explain how ineffective they’ve been overall, especially against the Cardinals.
The pressure now shifts back to the offense, with a $40 million quarterback and a supposed offensive expert as head coach and the play-caller. This team needs to be balanced, not just between both sides of the ball but in how they perform week to week. You can blow out all of the NFL bottom-feeders you want, but those wins won’t help you in the playoffs. If anything, they seem to have made this team think they’re something they’re not.
Now it’s on all of them, especially Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott, to respond to a huge reality check. Some might have thrown out the Arizona loss due to the Diggs injury, missing offensive linemen, and a general “trap game” scenario. But what happened in San Francisco was inexcusable. It was a sign that the Cowboys are farther away from contention than we hoped and that McCarthy and Prescott may not be the guys to help us close the gap.
There’s plenty of season left and, hopefully, the playoffs to make it all better. But if this is how Dallas is going to perform when the NFL elite come up on the schedule, the reset button is going to start flashing brighter and brighter.