Mike McCarthy’s future as Cowboys coach wasn’t something Jerry Jones wanted to discuss after a wild-card loss that left the owner saying “I can’t remember” when asked if he’d ever been more disappointed in defeat.
Questions about McCarthy come in part because the Cowboys could lose both coordinators to head coaching jobs in Kellen Moore on offense and Dan Quinn on defense. Moore is getting interviews for a second consecutive year, and Quinn took Atlanta to a Super Bowl in that role.
The 23-17 loss to San Francisco Sunday was another uneven performance from franchise quarterback Dak Prescott and Moore’s offense. It was punctuated by the hotly debated decision to run Prescott up the middle without a timeout with 14 seconds remaining believing there was time to spike the ball and run one more play.
After it didn't work and McCarthy, Prescott and other Dallas players criticized officials for the clock running out, Jones flatly rejected the supposed controversy with a dose of reality.
“I think this is a time that when you get this combination of players together, you need to have success, because we all know how it goes in the NFL,” Jones said after Sunday’s game. “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 [teams].”
Dallas had the No. 1 offense and an opportunistic defense that led the NFL in takeaways. Now Prescott has a 1-3 playoff record after the club’s first wild-card defeat since Tony Romo infamously flubbed the snap on a potential go-ahead field goal late in a loss at Seattle 15 years ago. Add the frantic failure to get off a final snap to the growing list of playoff lowlights.
“In all my years I don’t know that I’ve had a better chance or a better full team than this,” Prescott said. “It’s hard to accept knowing every year that a team’s not going to be the same, some of those guys won’t be back. It’s just hard for me to accept right now.”
Steelers facing changes
Ben Roethlisberger came back for one more run, wanting a chance for his final performance to not be a lopsided first-round playoff loss.
Even with his closest friends gone. Even with a first-year offensive coordinator. Even knowing he’d have an almost completely rebuilt offensive line. Even with rookies likely to take over in the backfield and at tight end.
The longtime Steelers quarterback and likely future Hall of Famer’s reward? An unlikely postseason berth and ... a lopsided first-round playoff loss.
Pittsburgh’s unwieldy season came to the crashing halt that was practically inevitable in a 42-21 whipping at the hands of Kansas City Sunday night. The Steelers (9-8-1) arrived at Arrowhead Stadium as the longest shot in the 14-team field and played like it.
The issues that plagued them all year — from offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s ineffectual play calling to a defense that was consistently drilled on the road — manifested over the final three quarters. Patrick Mahomes did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. It looked an awful lot like a handful of games from earlier in the season, including a 36-10 whipping in the same stadium the day after Christmas.
Roethlisberger’s career likely ended with an 11-yard pass to Zach Gentry as the clock ran out. The 39-year-old married father of three met briefly with Mahomes at midfield, saluted the fans in black and gold who stuck around to the bitter end, then walked into the tunnel — and into the next phase of his life.
“Being a husband and father, you never take a day off,” he said. “You’ve got to keep going, and so, as we move from one chapter to the next, it’s going to be different, but it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
The team he’s leaving behind, maybe not so much. The franchise that had every opportunity to make a clean break after last year’s flameout in the first round against the Browns but opted to bring back Roethlisberger can no longer kick the can down the road.
There are pieces in place to build around. All-Pro outside linebacker T.J. Watt is in his prime and a contender to win his first Defensive Player of the Year award. Rookie running back Najee Harris and rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth look very much like long-term fixtures. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is due a contract extension and All-Pro defensive lineman Cam Heyward is a worthy successor to Roethlisberger as the keeper of “The Steeler Way.”
It’s a way that will need some recalibration over the next six months. Pittsburgh hasn’t won a playoff game in five years, the longest drought of any team in the AFC North.