Mike McCarthy sells belief in playoff breakthrough that has eluded Cowboys

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Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, takes questions during during a news conference at the team's NFL football headquarters in Frisco, Texas, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

FRISCO, Texas – Mike McCarthy sifted through several versions of selling his belief that the Dallas Cowboys can find a level of postseason success that has eluded the storied franchise for nearly three decades.

The coach faced reporters a day after a meeting with owner and general manager Jerry Jones ended with them agreeing McCarthy would return for a fifth season despite a stunning wild-card loss to Green Bay.

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The Cowboys won the NFC East and entered the postseason with a chance to play at least twice at home, where they had a 16-game winning streak.

They exited as the first No. 2 seed to lose to a conference's last team in since the 14-team format was adopted in 2020. Dallas trailed by 32 points in the fourth quarter of the 48-32 loss to the Packers.

“We have established a championship program. It’s just not a world championship yet,” McCarthy told a packed news conference Thursday. “We know how to win. We know how to train to win. We have the right people.

“But we have not crossed the threshold winning playoff games,” McCarthy said. “It’s extremely disappointing to be sitting here talking about. But I know how to win. We will get over that threshold. I have total confidence in that, and that’s why I’m standing here today.”

McCarthy won a Super Bowl and went to three other NFC championship games in 12-plus seasons as coach of the Packers. That's why Jones hired him in 2020 after 10 years of watching Jason Garrett's teams fail to get past the divisional round.

The most recent time Dallas reached an NFC title game was the last of the franchise's five Super Bowl titles during the 1995 season.

While McCarthy has to own being the coach of the first team with three consecutive 12-win playoff seasons not to reach a conference championship game, there's only so much history he can take.

“I’m going to take no responsibility, and I talked to the players too, and they have no responsibility on what’s gone on here in the 20-plus years before this point,” McCarthy said. “We’re responsible for what’s going on the program. I know it’s disappointing to the fans, but we are in position to learn and grow from this and build on it.”

McCarthy said his meeting with Jones on Wednesday lasted about three hours. Afterward, Jones issued a statement saying McCarthy would return.

While Jones made several references to the disappointment of the playoff loss, he said there was “great benefit to continuing the team's progress under Mike's leadership.”

McCarthy said he didn't think the meeting was about making a case to keep the job.

“He’s an awesome boss but he’s even a better leader,” McCarthy said of Jones. “He asks all the hard, direct questions, which I love and appreciate because you get a depth into conversations. I don’t know if there’s much we didn’t talk about as far as topics that apply to the football operation.”

Jones' statement made no mention of an extension for McCarthy, who is going into the final year of his contract. McCarthy didn't want to discuss what that means for his future.

“I never talk about a player’s contract or a coach’s contract,” McCarthy said. “I’m not going to start today. But I will say I am very confident in the direction. I’m very confident where I am.”

McCarthy's fourth season as Dallas coach was his first as quarterback Dak Prescott's play-caller. While Prescott led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes and had a career-best completion rate of 69.5%, he continued a pattern of spotty postseason play. Prescott is 2-5 in the playoffs.

“I have unbelievable belief in Dak,” McCarthy said. “I think he clearly has another step. This offense has suited him well. The growth opportunity, we’re really looking forward to the future.”

McCarthy's last playoff victory with the Packers was a 34-31 divisional win at Dallas when Prescott was a rookie in 2016.

Including his final postseason game in Green Bay, McCarthy is 1-4 in the playoffs since then. And two of his three losses with the Cowboys were home playoff openers.

Both times, Dallas was the only home team to lose on wild-card weekend. The other was to San Francisco to finish the 2021 season.

While acknowledging he was “still a little bit numb” over the latest wild-card flop, McCarthy sounded resolute.

“I came here to win a championship,” McCarthy said. “I didn’t come here to get another contract or anything other than that. I came to Dallas to win the world championship. And that’s why I’m standing here. Buy into us.”


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