Welcome to the Mike McCarthy era.
Many fans have been calling for an aggressive, thinking-outside-the-box leader, and they've seemingly got that in McCarthy. But sometimes the gamble pays off and sometimes it doesn't. This one proved to be the latter.
In losing their season opener, 20-17, at the Los Angeles Rams, who were debuting their brand new SoFi Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys proved they indeed have plenty of offensive weapons, the team putting up 380 yards of offense. But in the end, they couldn't pick up the 3 yards they needed to bring home the victory.
Not to say that it can all be laid at the feet of that one decision. The Dallas defense struggled to contain the Rams for most the night, who in fairness have plenty of firepower of their own. The home side racked up 422 yards of offense, and perhaps more importantly, converted 53 percent (9-of-17) of its third down attempts and dominated the time of possession, 35:38 to 24:22.
Despite the relatively low score, this was a showdown between two young gunslingers. Quarterbacks who are forever linked by the 2016 draft, the Los Angeles Rams' Jared Goff selected first overall and the Dallas Cowboys' Dak Prescot taken in the fourth round.
And both were impressive with Prescott completing 64.1 percent of his passes for 266 yards and a touchdown for a 92.5 passer rating. For his part, Goff was good on 64.5 percent of his attempts for 275 yards and one interception, a 79.4 mark.
Both signal callers had help from a stout running attack, though. Ezekiel Elliott led the way with 96 rushing yards for Dallas, the Cowboys totaling 136 yards on the ground as a team. Meanwhile, the Rams' running back by committee approach chewed up 153 rushing yards.
And if the loss itself wasn't bad enough, there was even more bad news to the night's festivities. With offseason workouts and preseason games negated due to the COVID-19 pandemic and training camp delayed and perhaps altered, there were concerns that injuries could be a problem. And sure enough, the Cowboys suffered some significant ones.
Leighton Vander Esch, who missed six games last year due to a neck injury, left early in this one with what was described as an injured collarbone. That disappointing news was later followed by tight end Blake Jarwin and offensive tackle Cam Erving leaving in the second quarter, both of whom appeared to have suffered knee injuries.
But in terms of the Rams offense, they made it look relatively easy out of the gate, as they reached the red zone on each of their first five full possessions of the game. The only time they failed to was in the final seconds of the first half.
It all began when they took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards in seven plays for a quick seven points, rookie Cam Akers getting the honors with his first NFL score. That was then followed by three straight trips into field-goal range for the Rams. And while kicker Samuel Slomen clanked his first attempt off the left upright, he followed that up by converting from 35 and 31 yards on his next two tries.
The funny thing is, at the half the Cowboys were actually ahead, 14-13.
No matter that the Cowboys defense may have struggled through the first 30 minutes, Prescott was more than willing to go toe-to-toe with Goff. Prescott guided an eight play, 80-yard drive early in the second quarter, completing all five of his pass attempts for 67 yards. Elliott, however, would really provide the drive's highlight after he took a swing pass along the right sideline and then powered his way through at least four L.A. defenders to the end zone.
While new kicker Greg Zuerlein pushed a 50-yard field goal attempt to the right on the team's next series, no good, Prescot took control again as the second quarter came to a close. Starting at their own 27-yard line with 1:52 remaining, the Cowboys went the distance with Elliott getting his second touchdown of the night on a 1-yard bull-rush.
But it was Prescott who put the team in that position, as he again went 5-for-5 on his pass attempts, this time for 56 yards, while finding four different receivers. He then broke loose on a 12-yard run to the 1-yard line, which set up Elliott's score with just under 20 seconds remaining in the half.
Even though Dallas had momentum, and had possession to start the third quarter, the team couldn't capitalize. The Cowboys had to punt on their first series of the second half and then once again were unable to stop the Rams offense, which used 11 plays and knocked 5:51 off the clock in traveling 90 yards to the end zone. The big blow came on a 30-yard pass to Robert Woods with Goff capping things off with a 17-yard completion to Josh Reynolds to take back the lead, 20-14.
But Dallas caught a break when an interception by cornerback Chidobe Awuzie eventually led to a Zeurlein 33-yard field goal to bring the Cowboys to within three. Then after finally forcing the Rams to punt, Dallas had its opportunity to tie things up early in the fourth quarter.
Prescott led his squad to the L.A. 11-yard line, but on fourth-and-3, McCarthy made his decision to be aggressive and go for it instead of settling for the field goal. And although Prescott was able to dump off a pass to CeeDee Lamb over the middle, the rookie was stopped short of the marker, the Cowboys turning the ball over on downs.
They never got another chance. The Dallas offense took the field two more times, the last with 2:28 left in the game, and Prescott appeared to have a huge 47-yard completion to Michael Gallup that would have given the Cowboys the ball at the Rams' 19-yard line. But a questionable offensive pass interference call on Gallup negated the play.
And with that, the Cowboys' hopes were dashed.