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Our weekly dive into the decisions of Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy.
As impressive as the Cowboys’ win over the undefeated Panthers was, it was easy to get concerned by the team’s sudden conservative approach in the fourth quarter. Holding out Trevon Diggs and Randy Gregory for “player management” reasons and adopting a run-heavy approach on offense worried some fans who want Dallas to be the team that steps on opponent’s throats (figuratively, not literally, of course).
Well, they got their wish Sunday against the Giants. It happened in much the same way, as the Cowboys started off slow before pulling away in the third quarter. Dak Prescott, who was 364 days removed from his ankle injury in this stadium against this team, admitted he started the game in a bit of a fog. Once he shook out of it, things fell in their favor pretty quickly.
Prescott overcame a pick and a fumbled snap with goal-to-go to throw two touchdowns and give Dallas a 17-10 halftime lead. The Giants scored a field goal early in the third quarter before the Cowboys put up 10 unanswered points, with a signature Trevon Diggs interception sandwiched between, to take a commanding lead.
But if you thought Mike McCarthy was going to pull starters again and play things safe, you were wrong. Maybe it was the fact that this was a divisional rival, or perhaps a case of letting the Cowboys’ top guys exorcise some demons – Dak Prescott against his injury and Kellen Moore against Jason Garrett. Or maybe it even had to do with the chippy, downright dirty way that several Giants players had been playing in the game.
Whatever the reason, McCarthy decided to step on some throats.
There was perhaps no better indicator of that mentality than the Cowboys’ 98-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. The Giants had just come up short on the Dallas two-yard line and turned it over on downs. The Cowboys ran it to Ezekiel Elliott twice before a quick shot to CeeDee Lamb picked up 18 yards. Then, Moore called a dagger play.
Cedrick Wilson went in motion behind Prescott, who faked the handoff to Elliott before tossing a lateral to Wilson. They had run a similar play a few weeks ago in which Wilson just took it and ran, picking up a first down. That caused the defense to cheat up, allowing Wilson (who threw a touchdown pass against this team 364 days prior) to air it out to Noah Brown. The pass was rushed and underthrown, and Brown had to lay out to get it. The play still went for 22 yards, but had Wilson set his feet a little better, this could have been a crazy highlight touchdown.
Instead, all it did was send a message that this Cowboys team wasn’t done yet. Moore called two more runs before Prescott went deep to Wilson, who made an impressive grab to pick up 35 yards and send Dallas into the red zone. Two plays later, Zeke was in the endzone for a touchdown to make it a 34-13 game.
Then the Giants engineered a touchdown drive of their own, which involved rookie Kadarius Toney punching Damontae Kazee in the helmet and getting ejected. When the Cowboys got the ball back, still up 34-20 and with just over three minutes left, McCarthy and Moore decided not to simply run the clock out. They still ran the ball on early downs, but were clearly aiming to move the ball, as evidenced by Prescott throwing on the two third downs Dallas faced. It ultimately ended with a field goal, and an Anthony Brown pick-six only widened the lead further.
Coming just one week after he caught flak for seemingly getting too conservative against the Panthers, McCarthy was determined not to let that happen again. Facing a divisional rival with a lot of emotions running high for several reasons, McCarthy and these Cowboys won their third straight blowout and fourth consecutive win overall while sending a loud and clear message: nobody in the NFC East can handle them.