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Disaster in Dallas could push Mike McCarthy out. Is Bill Belichick looming for Cowboys?

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They are used to pain and disappointment in Dallas. It’s become as much a part of their winter as Super Bowls used to be. They know the red carpet is always likely to get pulled out from under their feet by the Cowboys just as they start to believe.

But this one felt different. This one was worse. This really might have been the Cowboys’ best opportunity in nearly three decades to get to a Super Bowl.

So it’s hard to imagine that Jerry Jones will let this go without making somebody pay.

That’s why all eyes and ears will be on the team’s 81-year-old owner in the coming days, after his Cowboys’ bitter, unexpected, inexcusable, 48-32 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the wild-card playoffs on Sunday. He made it clear he handed his coach, Mike McCarthy, a team that was, in his words, “certainly capable of winning the whole thing.” He was thrilled when they were set up for two potential home playoff games in a stadium where they had won 16 straight.

Then he sat there, with cameras on him, watching them blow it all in spectacular fashion.

That’s why McCarthy is suddenly sitting on the hottest seat in the country.

And Bill Belichick might be sitting by his phone.

“This seems like the most painful (playoff loss) because we all had such great expectation,” Jones said moments after it was over. “And we had hopes for this team and thought that we were aligned and in great shape. This is beyond my comprehension.”

And he added: “I’m floored.”

Will Mike McCarthy remain head coach of Cowboys after upset loss to Packers?

So was everyone. It was incomprehensible that the second-seeded Cowboys trailed 27-7 at the half, 41-16 after three quarters and 48-16 with six minutes to go before Dallas did some stat-padding against the Packers second team. They were so bad, AT&T Stadium sounded like Lambeau Field South, especially when Cowboys fans headed for the exits in the second half.

Jones, after the game, insisted “I haven’t thought one second” about McCarthy’s future or what he might do next. But really, how could Jones not be wondering if someone like Belichick could do better with this team, after watching McCarthy’s mess?

And the Cowboys coach earned every bit of the criticism he’ll get for this, too. His team looked unprepared for everything the Packers threw at them, right from the start. His offense — his baby, with his play-calling — was particularly putrid, looking incredibly out of sync from the first drive, despite being in a stadium where they won games by an average score of 37-16.

Dak Prescott, his MVP-caliber quarterback, “sucked” by his own words. He came within inches of throwing two Pick-6s, had a third interception dropped, and had just 210 passing yards through three quarters. And his No. 1 receiver, CeeDee Lamb, — his only reliable weapon all year long — almost completely disappeared, catching seven passes for just 51 yards in the first three quarters. Prescott and Lamb looked like strangers early in the game. Lamb had two drops on the first three passes thrown his way. And the dynamic duo seemed to be deep in discussion after every play.

But they weren’t nearly the disaster that the defense was. The self-described “best defense in the National Football League,” led by Dan Quinn, the defensive coordinator everyone seems to want to hire, was absolutely embarrassed by these upstart Packers. They gave up 415 total yards. The 48 points were the most the Cowboys have allowed in the playoffs in franchise history. Aaron Jones ran through them for 118 yards and three touchdowns. And first-year starting Packers quarterback Jordan Love (16 of 21, 272 yards, 3 touchdowns) just picked them apart.

Jordan Love, Packers dominate vs. Dak Prescott, Cowboys

Dave Helman sits down to analyze the Green Bay Packers’ impressive victory

It was easy for him because the Packers’ receivers always seemed to be wide open — like on the 38-yard, exclamation point touchdown pass to tight end Luke Musgrave early in the fourth quarter where no Dallas corner or safety was within 20 yards. The secondary — all season one of the NFL’s best — looked confused. The pass rush — also one of the NFL’s best — couldn’t get to Love with a map. Brandon Aubrey, their near-perfect kicker, even doinked an extra point off the upright.

In the biggest game, with everything laid out in front of them, literally nothing went right. McCarthy was out-coached by Matt LaFleur, his successor in Green Bay, in every phase of the game.

Said McCarthy: “I don’t think anyone saw this coming.”

Coaches don’t often survive shockers like that. And while it’s nice that McCarthy has led the Cowboys to three straight 12-5 seasons, they are now the first team since the AFL-NFL merger to have three straight 12-win seasons and not reach the conference championship game in any of them. Besides, that’s not how they measure success in Dallas — not with an octogenarian oilman for an owner who has been chasing a title since he was 53 years old. 

The 71-year-old Belichick is chasing another ring too, plus Don Shula’s record for all-time coaching wins. And while his four post-Tom Brady years in New England haven’t been great, no one doubts his ability to coach a championship team. His six shiny championship rings as head coach of the Patriots, plus two more as defensive coordinator of the Giants, are more than enough of a resume for an owner who needs and demands to win now.

And don’t overlook this fact: Bill Parcells, Belichick’s old boss, loved working for Jones from 2003-06. He raved about him as a boss when no one thought Jones was a good one. If Belichick is looking for a championship-ready team in a good situation, you can bet Parcells would be willing to point him toward Dallas.

Skip Bayless reacts after Cowboys eliminated by Packers

Would Jones do it? After this, he has to consider it, right? He’s always defied his reputation by being far too patient with coaches, keeping them far too long. But he’s never actually said that he’s sticking with McCarthy this time. When he was asked a week ago if McCarthy would be back, he said “We’ll see how each game goes.” Even when he was given a chance to clarify that on the radio two days later, he praised McCarthy, saying “I couldn’t be more pleased with what he’s done.”

That was followed by his refusal to comment on Sunday. He still has never actually said “Yes.”

So he’s got a decision to make. McCarthy came to Dallas with a reputation of wilting in the playoffs. Many believed he should’ve won far more championships than just one in 13 years with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback with the Packers. His playoff record now is just 11-11 overall.

Even Jones might realize it could be impossible to sell his fans — or even his team — on one more year of McCarthy after this. Not when one of the greatest coaches of all time is out there, available, ready and able to make one last run.

McCarthy said “I haven’t thought past the outcome of this game,” but the outcome is probably enough. Jones believed he had the team in place to make a championship run. He could have most of it back again next season.

All he needs to do now is make sure he has the right coach.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.


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