It was an atrocious end to a game and a season for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday evening, and that was true before players leaving the field in their own stadium were booed and pelted with plastic bottles and other things used as projectiles by their own fans.
That was true before club owner Jerry Jones declined to address coach Mike McCarthy’s job security.
That was before Jones said he was “extraordinarily disappointed, very disappointed” and called the 23-17 San Francisco 49ers’ playoff victory at his sold out AT&T Stadium “quite a letdown.”
Jones will make a decision on McCarthy’s status as Cowboys coach some time in the next couple of days. And it sounded ominous, if you’re that one, lonely McCarthy fan who doesn’t share his surname, that Jones did offer this:
“Well, I think this is a time when you get this combination of players together, you need to have success,” he told the group of reporters that routinely form a scrum around him following every game. “Because we all know how it goes in the NFL. The whole thing is set up to take away from the best and add to the ones that need improvement.
“And personnel-wise, I think we have one of the best.”
That should put McCarthy on notice that his tenure in Dallas, currently at two disappointing seasons, might not extend to a third season.
And rightly so because the Cowboys showed on Sunday that they are not coached well enough for success in these nail-biting games on a playoff stage. The Cowboys not only started slow, but put on an undisciplined and penalty-filled performance throughout before that chaotic end.
The final play the Cowboys put on tape Sunday screamed their need for better coaching because it was the rare, awful combination of misguided call and poor execution — both of which speak to both poor coaching judgment and bad practice habits.
Let’s begin with that play at the end because it ultimately might lead to McCarthy’s departure.
The Cowboys, down six points, had the ball at the San Francisco 41 yard line with 14 seconds to play with no timeouts.
And in that dire situation facing both the 49ers defense and the clock, the Cowboys ran a quarterback draw with Dak Prescott running up the middle of the field.
Again, the Cowboys had a run in the middle of the field with no time outs. And, again, the only way it had a hope of working is if it was perfectly executed and then followed by another perfectly executed touchdown pass.
One reason it all fell apart is Prescott did not hand the ball to the umpire so he could place quickly for the next play. The quarterback gave it to his center. So the umpire, trailing the play from behind, arrived to place the ball and actually had to fight through both Prescott and the center to mark the ball.
By the time that was done and Prescott got the next snap from center, time had elapsed.
And then came the explanations and finger-pointing from McCarthy.
“I’ve never seen that come down the way it came down, as far as the collision between the umpire and the quarterback,” McCarthy said. “We were trying to get inside the 30 yard line to set up the last play. The mechanics were intact from our end of it. The communication that I was given on the sideline was that they were reviewing it, they were going to put time back on the clock.
“The next thing I know, they’re running off the field. That’s the only facts I have for you.”
But, but, a QB draw?
“Oh no, I have no problem with the call,” McCarthy said. “We call the situation a ‘church clock situation.’ This is something we practice every Friday and Saturday. We’re trying to get inside the 20 yard line. We want the last play to come down to — it would have been some form of five vertical pass concept, so we had a two set-up based on where we were going to be,
the final yardage there.
“Based on being that tight, 14 seconds, we should clearly get the ball spiked there. I haven’t seen the replay, I’m sure you have, but I was as shocked as anybody on offense that we didn’t get to that last play opportunity.”
And here’s McCarthy’s problem: He has a long-standing reputation of not being a good steward of clock management and this will only add to it.
And if his team is practicing this play every Friday and Saturday, why didn’t Prescott hand the ball to the umpire instead of his teammate? Didn’t they practice that part?
One more issue: McCarthy routinely makes it about questionable officiating instead of, you know, good execution. This team complains about bad situations as much as it overcomes them.
And this night was no different.
“I know there was a collision between the umpire and Dak, ” McCarthy repeated before later adding, “I think we all felt, I know on our sideline, that the ball was clocked in time.”
Except it wasn’t.
And this botched situation combined with 14 penalties for 89 yards speaks of a team lacking attention to detail and discipline.
But McCarthy had an explanation (excuse) for that, too.
“I wouldn’t say we were undisciplined,” he said. “I think the fact that the physicality, when it’s weighed, you’re trying to get your team to a certain play style, there’s definitely some growing pains that we’ve gone through.”
No idea what that means.
McCarthy’s work this game is going to be judged by Jones soon. And he should be worried, even if he refused to admit it Sunday night.
“I don’t have any concerns,” he said when asked about his future in Dallas. “I’m proud to be standing here today. I’m proud of my football team.”
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandSalguero