INDIANAPOLIS – Mike McCarthy's first two seasons in Dallas have been anything but ordinary.
Extremely high expectations, record-breaking contracts, and a worldwide pandemic have all provided several obstacles surrounding the current Cowboys roster and its coaching staff. However, despite a six-win improvement, when things were tough for the Dallas Cowboys on the field in 2021, a lack of response usually followed.
"My biggest thing in these meetings I'm in are penalties and adversity football," McCarthy said Tuesday from the NFL Combine. "That is at the forefront of everything we do. Every game you play in, every game you've ever competed in, there's an ebb and flow to it. It's never the same."
Sure. There were a few games early in the season where the Cowboys turned their troubles into triumph. Once in the face of missing five starters against Los Angeles and another by taking down a Minnesota team on the road without Dak Prescott as examples.
A level of that fight stemmed from the last half of McCarthy's first season as head coach in 2020. It was one he had hoped would continue all the way through the most recent campaign.
"I saw this in Year 1. Our game situation work, and football IQ were things I felt like we needed to spend more time on," he said. " I felt like at the end of year one we were playing the right way. The offense and defense were playing with one another."
Despite seeing a vast improvement in multiple areas and leading the NFL in more than one statistical category, the results did not match up at the end of the year.
The adversity that had been conquered early in the season had finally caught back up to Dallas in a way that McCarthy didn't anticipate, based on what he had seen from his first year.
"I felt like the foundation of what we needed to do was starting to form there," McCarthy said. "We finished the right way. We were 6-10, you are what your record is. That team fought all the way to the end, and we were able to build off that in the offseason program."
This offseason, McCarthy aims to do something similar. Except this time, it's based on motivation from the failures late in the season. By looking back at the wild card loss to San Francisco that included a record-breaking 14 penalties and a slow start that ultimately sunk their chances at a win.
Along with those top priorities, so is self-examining the coaching staff and their usage of players in certain situations. Just another way Dallas plans to improve upon a disappointing end to the season.
"We're clearly past last year," McCarthy said. "But we're obviously mindful of things we need to continue to look at and move forward."