Mike McCarthy, hired by Dallas Cowboys for February football, is ready for playoffs

Laurence Kesterson/AP
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  • Mike McCarthy
    Mike McCarthy
    American football coach
  • Dak Prescott
    Dak Prescott
    American football player

Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

After taking the Green Bay Packers to the postseason eight straight years and nine of his first 11 before being fired in 2018, he believes it’s his rightful domain.

It’s his first trip with the Cowboys after taking over before the 2020 season.

And McCarthy says the team is more than ready for Sunday’s wild card game against the San Francisco 49ers after a record-breaking 2021 in which they scored more points than any club in franchise history and led the NFL in turnovers in a season in which they finished 12-5 and won the NFC East.

“No, I never had any doubts,” McCarthy said. “I feel like this is where I belong. I know this is where we belong. We’ve earned this opportunity. We’ve had a lot of production. We have an excellent foundation to take into this playoff.”

And McCarthy undoubtedly is pleased about getting the Cowboys in the playoffs for the first time after a 6-10 mark in a first season that was largely derailed by an injury to quarterback Dak Prescott that sidelined him for the final 11 games.

Getting to the playoffs is the foundation on which he wants to build his tenure in Dallas, just like he did in Green Bay. And so this is just the beginning.

“At the end of the day it’s about winning,” McCarthy said. “Philosophically, this is definitely another block in the building blocks of what we want to accomplish. Obviously, you want to be in this position every year, but this is our first time. It’s all part of what you’re trying to establish, but at the end of the day these are the games, these are the most important games. We all recognize what we need to do Sunday to get to the next round. Philosophically, it’s definitely part of the climb.”

The climb is all that matters in Dallas, and McCarthy knows he wasn’t hired to simply play an extra game or two in January.

He was hired for February football.

McCarthy was hired to get the Cowboys back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1995 season. The team’s dreams have not been fulfilled in their last 11 trips to the postseason.

And McCarthy’s experience, not only as a playoff regular but as the 2010 Super Bowl champion, is being counted on to be a difference maker for a young Cowboys team who have no history of playoff success.

“It helps a lot,” cornerback Trevon Diggs said, “He’s been there before. He won a Super Bowl before, so he knows what it takes. He knows everything. But as far as him as a person and a coach, he hasn’t changed. He’s been doing what he’s been doing. He’s been preparing us for this moment all year, all season. It’s just natural.”

Prescott agreed with Diggs. He said McCarthy has been preparing the Cowboys for the playoffs all season in his approach to practice and games.

“Just the way that he sets the tone,” Prescott said. “Just in our preparation, just in our mindset and the way that we go throughout the week in our progress. And then the process of getting ready to go into this game and the preparation of making sure we stay focused on the moment, put our energy into the now and not get ahead of ourselves and into the game before it’s time to go out there and play.

“As he said, just be us. Be the best version of ourselves and make sure that we’re continuing to do everything that we can to control that.”

McCarthy’s experience showed up late in the season when the Cowboys rebounded from a two-game losing slide to win five of their last six season games. It was his playoff history that prompted him to play his starters in the 51-26 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles in the season finale that partially enabled them to move up from the fourth seed to the third seed.

And McCarthy said it helps on gameday that the Cowboys have coaches who have been there, seen things and can recognize it, while handling the emotional and mental challenges of the moment.

That’s when the experience pays it forward, he said.

But his primary focus is preparing the Cowboys to be their best on Sunday by continuing to do the things they have been doing.

“I think the best thing I can do is to keep the emphasis on the regularity, keep the emphasis on who we are, how we built our season, how we’re going to approach San Francisco and just keep everybody on track here through the preparation part of it,” McCarthy said. “Then obviously the performance is the most important part of it. The ability to peak and make the adjustments and really just keep everybody focused on what’s at hand.”

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