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Was McCarthy Really an Upgrade From Garrett? Cardinals Game a Big Test

Though the Dallas Cowboys are currently riding high in one of their better seasons of the last 10 years, there's still plenty to prove and accomplish. That's especially true for Mike McCarthy as he still works to validate the Jones' decision to hand him the keys after nine seasons with Jason Garrett. If McCarthy is truly an upgrade from Garrett, games like tomorrow's against the are ones he can't afford to lose.

No, the haven't started yet. The Cowboys could go down tomorrow and still redeem themselves in the postseason. But this Cardinals game comes with some significant playoff-relevant stakes and at a time when the mood around Dallas is scarily positive.

Despite the hyperbole you may hear at times on , or anything that happened to him in New York the last two years, Jason Garrett had seasons like this with the Cowboys. He was hardly a or even Chan Gailey; Garrett's problem was never converting good opportunities into great results.

Garrett's Cowboys won three division titles during his tenure. They went 12-4 in 2014 and won a playoff game. The 2016 team went 13-3 even after losing a few weeks before the season and starting rookie at . In 2018, Dallas went 10-6 and won their first postseason game but again lost in the .

A consistent trend with those playoff-bound Cowboys teams was that they would drop a significant regular-season game leading up to the playoffs. Anomalous on their own, the trend shows why these Dallas teams under Garrett weren't more successful in January.

It's also why I'm looking at tomorrow's game against the Arizona Cardinals as a major litmus test for Mike McCarthy and the 2021 Cowboys.

The 2014 team was 8-3 going into the Day game against the division-leading . But despite the visiting Eagles having to play at QB on a short week, they rolled over the Cowboys in an embarrassing 33-10 rout.

Jason Garrett
Former Cowboys HC Jason Garrett

In 2016 the ugly loss came in . The Cowboys snapped an 11-game win streak and allowed the Giants to complete the sweep in a 10-7 loss where the never showed up to play.

Same basic story in of 2018; Dallas went down 23-0 to the .  Again, the Cowboys just seemed insufficiently prepared or motivated for a good test of mettle with the playoffs on the horizon.

That's what tomorrow's game represents to me. The Cardinals are 10-5 and one of the clear contenders in the . They've been in a slight funk lately and dropped to second in the NFC West, but that's all the more reason that the Cowboys can't afford to lay another late-season egg.

Mike McCarthy has some great things going right now in Dallas. His team is 11-4 and has already clinched the . They're only a game back from the Packers for the number-one seed. They have some of the hottest young stars in football in and ; lots of excitement swirling around them and the team in general.

The consistent flaw that I saw with Jason Garrett as a head coach was in managing success. He had a knack for keeping the team together during rough times, keeping them fighting during less glamorous seasons or individual games when things weren't going their way. Garrett knew how to play the underdog card and inspire belief when there was none coming from the outside.

But once things started going their way and the hype train got rolling, Garrett's Cowboys tended to “eat the cheese,” as once said, and never met the greater expectations.

This is where McCarthy can start to really distinguish himself as a difference maker from the last regime. A Garrett-led Cowboys team probably lets the Cardinals come to town and embarrass them; a trap game with the division already won and a playoff spot secured.

Can Mike McCarthy's Cowboys finally take things to the next level? While beating Arizona tomorrow doesn't accomplish that, it could be a great sign of what lies ahead in the postseason. If Dallas is truly a contender in 2021, they shouldn't allow the Cardinals or anyone to come into town and embarrass them.

Jess Haynie

Written by Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Don Kiolbassa

Garret’s biggest mistake was not replacing Prescott with Romo for the 2016 playoffs.

JL Burton

That’s exactly right!

Jeff Tuggle

Not sure Garrett was better than Gailey. Better overall production but he also never had the talent Garrett had


Cowboys WERE EMBARRASSED AT HOME by the Broncos, a truly disgraceful display. And then by Raiders on Thanksgiving Day.

AGAIN, they are lucky to play in a WEAK division. Helps with the win/lost record.

MM is set up with this team. A lot of good, albeit somewhat hyped, talent overall. Even CR was able to win a game with the weapons they have on offense. No more yearly pitiful excuses, please. Time to produce in the PS.


Sorry Jessie, Garrett absolutely should have put Romo back in at QB. Stats mean nothing as Dak continues to prove as the current QB. In the playoffs experience is critical. Romo, with the collection of talent they had that year and his experience absolutely could have been the difference in that playoff run. I hope he proves me wrong, but I fully expect him to look very average the next two weeks against much better competition than he has faced on the current win streak.

Shawn Clement (@ShawnClement15)

One things fans do not know is whether Jones (Who gets his hand into every cookie jar) insisted Dak play or if like most NFL teams, allowed Garrett to make that call. A lot of things fans push the blame on coaches was actually the owner’s fault.


I agree on the stakes for tomorrow’s game. Can’t lay an egg this time of year unless it’s the last game of the season with nothing to gain or lose, and you’re resting all of your premium players.

We’re still in the hunt for the #1 seed. Much more important than the bye, it means the playoffs don’t go through Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. The bye is of dubious benefit this year. Yeah, it’s a week to get healthy from injuries, but with ongoing Covid issues, it really doesn’t matter since pretty much any player could test positive or be a “close contact” from week to week.

But, the difference in playing Aaron Rodgers in a hostile Green Bay in January conditions and playing him in the friendly and comfortable AT&T Dome are night and day for a team not conditioned to playing in frigid temps.

We’ve got receivers like Cooper who seems to struggle on the road and Lamb who has had a problem with drops lately and more so in cold or bad conditions.

Our defense is predicated on speed and agility, which leans heavily towards a fast track like at home, as opposed to frozen or half frozen grass like GB’s heated, but often muddy, field.

Zeke would be fine in those conditions, but it could negatively impact Pollard’s agility.

So, to keep pace and potentially wrest the #1 seed from GB, it’s important to keep the streak alive and not let up one bit just because they’ve locked up the division.

And that doesn’t even get into the psyche of “oh no, here we go again” if they lose to another playoff caliber team. Beating up on a questionable division is one thing, losing to a true playoff caliber team is another. Losing the opening game against the contending Bucs was bad enough, Going 1-3 (and barely beating the 4th) against a tough AFC West was disheartening. The only decent to good teams they have beaten are the Pats and the Saints. And they caught the Saints at a very opportune time, leaving the Pats game as the only signature win outside the division.

They need to have that confidence of a decisive win over a good, though struggling of late, team.


I don’t like how MMC is with clock management, stuff like that will comeback to bite you in the playoffs,

boneheaded calls such as Pete Carroll calling a pass instead of running the ball with one of the most unstoppable RBs at that time with Marshawn Lynch, back in SB 49, Pats and TB 12 win after Butler pick in endzone, and then also in SB 51 when Falcons blow a 28-3 lead, including a very unnecessary strip sack that led to the Pats and TB 12 winning yet again that time in OT

We can very much be victims like that with MMC making a boneheaded play call like those guys did

That said i do think he’s a upgrade over Garrett, Garrett aka mr. Claps a lot was just so conservative all the time, kinda stuck in the past back when like he was apart of the 90s teams where they won SBs with the one of the greatest O Lines ever and one of the greatest RBs of all time leading the way, with the passing game kind of secondary

Not only that but also Garrett just didn’t show enough heart, enough fire for me from a HC, MMC does more of that to me as well as he’s more aggro than Garrett is, he’ll chew the refs out and give them a hard time if they miss something or call something wrong which Garrett didn’t ever really do


This upcoming matchup vs. Cards is huge, we got to win in order to have a shot of getting #1 seed and home field advantage, this is also a big game for Cards as they’re trying to win division, plus they’ve been bad the last 2 weeks, so you have to imagine they’re looking to get back on their A game in this one

Shannon Sharpe on Undisputed talked about the possibility of Boys getting #1 Seed and how getting that could possibly increase their chances of getting to the SB, and he said that “even if we did, it wouldn’t be that much a difference, AT&T isn’t the kind of homefield advantage as say like a Green Bay or Arrowhead , where the cold, outside conditions, snow or winds can effect the game, you’re in a dome, so is the visiting team, A Rod gonna light you up in Green Bay or AT&T, doesn’t matter where” which i found this wrong and offensive particularly about the lack of home field advantage for us, as highlighted, we aren’t at our best on the road, or at least Coop isn’t, and Ceedee has had a case of the dropsies, and playing in cold Green Bay probably won’t help with that either,

Bottom line is that we need the #1 seed with Home field and first round bye, to at least give us the best chances of winning in the playoffs, cuz we’re at our best at home when we got things together


I’d be happy if they just won out. Yeah, that would do it for me!


Life long fan. Same shit different day. Greenbay let him go for calling stupid plays and not preparing his players. We need some new blood on the coaching staff.


Fire MMC, promote Quinn to HC and give KM a big raise to keep him on our staff. They gave Dak 40m, they can give Kellen a raise.

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