From Mike McCarthy to Dak Prescott: What Went Wrong in Dallas?

What Went Wrong in Dallas

Another first-round exit has Dallas Cowboys fans asking: what went wrong in Dallas? Mike McCarthy had a great chance and a fresh start with a healthy team to start 2021 after an injury-riddled 2020. Dak Prescott made his return, surfacing as an early-season MVP candidate. Despite overall good health and some great football, Dallas lost in the first round of playoffs again. This season felt like Dallas had everything figured out and they would finally make a deep playoff run, just to have the one-and-done narrative realized yet again at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers.

What Went Wrong in Dallas: Another First-Round Exit

Injury-Riddled 2020

Injuries plagued the 2020 season with Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, and others missing games at some point. 2020 was a difficult season for McCarthy and the Cowboys. Jerry Jones and Cowboys nation struggled to get comfortable with McCarthy and the coaching staff being forced to start the likes of Andy Dalton and Ben DiNucci at quarterback. Despite missing key pieces all over the field, Dallas only narrowly missed winning the NFC East. The Cowboys late-season push left Dallas fans with hope and optimism for 2021 with a healthy team.

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Early Season

Dallas started off the season with a heart-breaking loss against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then, the Cowboys rattled off several wins in a row, taking firm control of the NFC East. The Cowboys were touted as one of the best teams in the NFL during the first half of the season, riding great play from Prescott, Elliott, the defense, and the offensive line.

Dallas started showing weaknesses in the middle of the season after Prescott injured his ankle. As Prescott threw a touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb against the New England Patriots to end overtime, he apparently suffered an ankle injury.  Training Staff forced him to rest time so as to be entirely healthy for playoffs.

Mid-Season Struggles

After Prescott returned from his injury, he seemed to have lost his sharpness and efficiency firing from the pocket. The Cowboys were able to survive against the Minnesota Vikings with Cooper Rush at the helm but then fell to the Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders, and Kansas City Chiefs during the middle stretch of the season. The Broncos thoroughly outplayed the Cowboys, although Dallas was more competitive against both Kansas City and Las Vegas in games decided by one score.

Dallas rediscovered what made them great leading into playoffs. Dallas won five out of their last six games, including beating the now Washington Commanders twice and both the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants once each. Prescott and the Cowboys solidified their position atop the NFC East while picking up momentum down the stretch. Their lone loss was at the hands of Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals 25-22. The Cowboys were looking great and had momentum heading into playoffs against the 49ers.

Another First-Round Exit

The Cowboys fell in the first round at the hands of Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers. The Boys in Blue suffered a post-season high 14 penalties in a sloppy afternoon match. Dallas was able to claw back into the game with less than one minute left. Prescott marched the Cowboys into 49ers territory where the drive stalled on a controversial series of events. Prescott elected to run a quarterback draw to reach 49ers territory but was unable to snap the ball to stop the clock for one last play. The clock expired with the ball deep in 49ers territory leaving the score 23-17 and sending Dallas to the off-season early.

Mental Mistakes Plague Prescott and McCarthy

The clock running out exhibited what went wrong in Dallas. The last series ended sloppily, similar to how Dallas played the entire game. The Cowboys committed numerous penalties stifling their offensive drives, extending San Francisco’s drives, and forcing them in terrible down and distance situations all game. Furthermore, Prescott and McCarthy were not mentally prepared to spike the ball to stop the clock on the final play. The quarterback frantically tried to snap the ball before the offense was lined up and before the official could put the football in play. Prescott and McCarthy showed their immaturity and lack of preparedness, respectively, by failing to get the football to the official as soon as possible.

The season came down to mental mistakes and lack of preparedness. McCarthy and Prescott are both responsible for keeping the team motivated, focused, and playing mistake-free football as the two leaders of the team. Prescott needs to take personal and professional responsibility to play his best football every game moving forward, as well as make better decisions with the season on the line. McCarthy needs to work harder to engrain a focus-oriented culture to avoid dumb mistakes during the 2022 season. Prescott’s salary will hit the cap very hard next season and Dallas will have to lean on their quarterback more so than this season while McCarthy is an early candidate for the first coach on the hot seat.

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