ARLINGTON, TX — Four days ago, Mike McCarthy was laying on an operating table having emergency surgery to remove his appendix. He was expected, at the time, to be available to coach the Dallas Cowboys against the Philadelphia Eagles, but nothing was certain and that includes in what capacity he'd be available.
"You think that tough Irishman is gonna miss this game?" posited defensive coordinator Dan Quinn on Wednesday, only minutes after news broke of McCarthy's diagnosis.
Not only was Quinn correct, but it truly was business as usual on Sunday, because McCarthy wasn't in the coaches' box playing it safe. He was calling plays from the sideline, despite risk of contact during his post-op recovery.
"No issues — really, I just wanted to do my part," said McCarthy. "I just wanted to make sure that I was prepared as I normally am. I was a little nervous about it today, because it's a long year and we're all creatures of habit. You know, you go through these normal seven-day weeks and when you miss time … but I was able to make it up, and frankly, I think the best part about it is I was able to get more sleep than I normally do."
In his absence during the week, it was Quinn, Brian Schottenheimer and John "Bones" Fassel conducting practice and team meetings until McCarthy returned on Friday.
"The coaches did a great job, and we didn't miss a beat and I think we demonstrated that tonight," he added.
At one point leading into the weekend, quarterback Dak Prescott playfully chided McCarthy by telling him to prove how tough he is, and so he did — by not only showing up, but by also showing out.
The offense racked up 24 points in the first half alone, and that was despite leaving some plays on the field in what could've been yet another 40-point explosion at AT&T Stadium.
The unit cooled considerably in the second half and still racked up nearly 400 yards (394) of total offense on the day — including converting nine of their 16 third-down attempts (24 first downs in all) and turning the ball over just once.
In all, it led to a 33-13 statement win for the Cowboys that also gives them a seat atop the NFC East heading into their Week 15 matchup against the Buffalo Bills. The magnitude of the victory against the Eagles, the level of dominance shown in all three phases and the adversity of what occurred over the past several days can only make it all that much sweeter for McCarthy.
"I mean, it's definitely an important victory," he said. "These division games are so difficult — always have been, regardless of the year. We understand when you get to double digits, you know 10 wins, 11 wins, really give you a clearer picture of what you need to get done. They've been playing great ball all year.
"So, you know, we felt like we had the opportunity in Philadelphia, so we needed to get this game and, more importantly, I just wanted to see us take a step as a football team."
Consider this a step taken — a massive one — that mathematically helps the Cowboys and does the same for them from the standpoint of team morale going into their December gauntlet and, for now, it effectively puts the kibosh on any narrative that claims the Cowboys can't defeat other top teams in the NFC.
They've learned a lot from their loss to the 49ers in Week 5, along with the narrow loss to the Eagles in Week 9, and plenty of those lessons were deployed in the dissection of the birds in Texas.
"It's about winning," said McCarthy. "It's always about winning but, you know, you've got to improve — you have to improve down the stretch here. You want to be playing your best football in December.
"I think we got off to a great start tonight."
And now on a two-game slide, it's the Eagles who have a sinking feeling in their gut.