By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Among the most difficult aspects of watching "Hard Knocks" last summer was having to witness Mike McCarthy pretend to have a personality. The other challenge was holding in laughter while hearing everybody talk about the goal to win a Super Bowl.
With all due respect to the folks putting in the work, lifting up all those weights (and putting them down, in some cases), grinding all that tape, running the sprints, practicing the reps, and focusing on this goal, the reality is it's just never going to happen. Not with that nucleus of power.
And while we saw this undeniable reality on display on the field in Dallas -- the 14 penalties, the lack of awareness, the porous run defense, the unforgivable final play, etc. -- we also saw it in the postgame press conference room.
Rather than accept blame for wasting time by running five extra yards, Dak Prescott used his position as an NFL quarterback to admonish any fans who might have thrown trash at football players while simultaneously praising any fans who might have thrown trash at the referee and the officiating crew.
Dak has since apologized for his comments via Twitter, but which of his comments do you suppose more closely reflected his honest and true feelings?
McCarthy likewise felt cheated by the officials after he signed off on a QB draw with 14 seconds left, no timeouts, and an offense that clearly was not prepared to run that play in that amount of time.
"That was the decision. It's the right decision," McCarthy asserted after the loss, even though the actual results showed it to not be the right decision. "It's just like anything, it's the execution between us and the officiating putting the ball obviously wasn't -- we shouldn't have had any problem getting the ball spotted there. Just -- is that the quote you're looking for?"
McCarthy also said he was initially told by the official on the sideline that time was going to be put back on the clock, but "the next thing I know, they're running off the field."
The message, clearly, is that the Cowboys were cheated in this one. That's what the likes of McCarthy and Prescott would like the narrative to be.
But that's just simply a sad state of affairs for a group that doesn't really want to hold itself accountable.
Did the umpire bump Prescott? Yes. Did Prescott seemingly have any idea that the umpire would need to get to the football and spot it? Nope.
Did the play technically gain yardage? Yup. Did Mike McCarthy say that the goal was to get to the 25-yard line, even though 14 seconds is cutting things unnecessarily close and pulling up short of the 30 would have made all the difference in the world? You betcha.
Let's not forget the Cowboys keeping their punt unit on the field after a successful fake punt, a maneuver which left Dallas looking like a team that had never once pondered the scenario of "what happens if we succeed on this fake punt?" According to McCarthy, that gaffe -- which took time off the clock and cost Dallas a delay of game penalty -- was also the officials' fault.
"It was a two-play series set that was called there on fourth down. I think we had a player step on the field in celebration. They [the officials] recognized it as, I was told afterwards, as we were trying to substitute," McCarthy said. "Because obviously we didn't substitute. We were lining up immediately. So then the confusion of, you know, them resetting it, based on substitutions, not substituting, so then they reset the clock, so then we went to offense, you know. And frankly I thought we were clearly, once again, standing over the ball. ... I think they overdid it a little bit today."
McCarthy can keep telling himself that. But the rest of us all know that until there's something drastic -- until Jerry steps aside, or something of that magnitude -- then the Dallas Cowboys will remain situated smack-dab in the center of Loserville, USA.
The fact that McCarthy once again harped on officiating while confidently declaring the final play to have been "the right call" when he spoke about the matter three days after losing generates no confidence that things will ever change.
(Quick aside: You know that fake tweet from Mike McCarthy's press conference? The one that roughly 8 million legitimate sports media members shared without verifying? That was an interesting thought experiment for two reasons. One, it shows how easy it is for misinformation to spread on social media. But two, it shows ... just how believable that particular instance of McCarthy blaming an analytics department and throwing them under the bus really is! While yes, McCarthy may have been victimized by some BS on this one ... he's also given so many people no reason to doubt that this could have been true.)
The Cowboys haven't reached a conference championship since the 1995 season. They are 4-11 in the playoffs since then, including seven one-and-dones. One of their wins came against the Lions, so it barely counts. Another win came against a Seahawks team that lost its kicker mid-game and lost the game by two points. There's not a whole lot to feel good about over the last quarter-century for the Cowboys in the playoffs.
But for eight other teams, the dream lives on. And so we must pick.
(Home team in CAPS; Thursday lines)
TENNESSEE (-3.5) over Cincinnati
Is it a dumb thing to say that I'm worried about Derrick Henry messing things up for the Titans?
It's dumb, right? Yeah?
OK. Well, even if Henry isn't a huge impact player on a surgically repaired foot in his first game since Halloween, his mere presence should be enough to make life easier for Ryan Tannehill against the NFL's 26th-ranked passing defense by yardage and the NFL's 31st-ranked pass defense by passer rating.
Joey B will make it fun, and dang it if that half-point doesn't frighten me. But the rested Titans should end the fun little run in Cincy on Saturday afternoon.
GREEN BAY (-6) over San Francisco
You want me to pick a banged-up Jimmy Garoppolo to go into Lambeau and win on a night with single-digit temperatures? Thanks but no thanks.
Jimmy reminded the world last weekend that he's not to be trusted in any playoff game ...
... and that unfortunately won't be changing for the Niners any time soon. Having a rookie as a backup doesn't exactly change perspectives for this game, either.
Plus, this is the Packers' time. It has to be the Packers' time. As I wrote in detail two weeks ago, if this doesn't turn out to be the Packers' time, then the Packers need to shut down their entire operation for five years. Reassess things. Wonder what's the purpose of life. Stuff like that.
Los Angeles Rams (+3) over TAMPA BAY
Did I just take Matthew Stafford, on the road, against Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr., in a playoff game?
Do I know I can start these little write-ups without asking a question?
I recognize that I'm going against some conventional wisdom and some gut feelings here, but I also like to think I've got a pretty good grasp on the Buccaneers this year. And they're really not that good.
Which probably goes to altering some stats that might argue that the Bucs are good. But they're really not that good. They're carried by Tom Brady.
And that's going to be difficult to continue this week. The Rams have a potent pass rush, and not only is Brady without Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown to get open quickly for him, but he's also got an injured Tristan Wirfs at right tackle and a banged-up Ryan Jensen at center.
This spells trouble for Tampa Tom.
If he can make it all work with Tyler Johnson and Breshad Perriman stopping their routes, with a backfield being held together by Scotch tape, with a head coach who will randomly assault players on the field at a moment's notice for some reason, and with a defense that barely resembles the one that dominated last year's Super Bowl? It would be as improbable as any of Brady's 17 million career victories. No doubt about that.
KANSAS CITY (-1.5) over Buffalo
It's tempting to take Buffalo here, after the Bills painted a masterpiece last weekend while routing the Patriots. The line opening at 2.5 and shrinking a point in the past few days shows just how alluring that option has been for a lot of people.
But there's something to remember here: The Bills should absolutely not be judged by how they played against the Patriots.
Against the Patriots, the Bills are a Goliath. Josh Allen is some sick mixture of Michael Vick and Joe Montana. Sean McDermott is a modern-day George Halas. Micah Hyde is Ed Reed. It's ridiculous.
The reality is that the Bills outscored the Patriots 80-38 in two meetings in the past month. Outside of that, they fought tooth-and-nail to beat the Jets, after needing a huge comeback effort to beat the Falcons the week prior. Both games were in Buffalo.
Yes, the Bills beat the Chiefs in K.C. earlier this season, but that was when the Chiefs were still rebooting their system after making the Super Bowl for two straight years and not really caring much for early-season football.
Now? Now you're nuts if you think the Chiefs will resemble anything like the team that took the field against Buffalo in October. The Chiefs got their big playoff warm-up out of the way last week, absolutely taking off in the second and third quarters, and you've got to be simply giddy to have the opportunity to take them in this spot while only giving up a point and a half.
Last week: 4-2
Regular season: 152-119-1
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