FRISCO, Texas —When the Dallas Cowboys take the field against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, it'll be especially trying for head coach Mike McCarthy - emotionally - whether he openly admits it or not.
Having spent 13 seasons of his 29 years as a coach leading Brett Favre and then Aaron Rodgers, the latter to his lone Super Bowl appearance and victory, it's understandable all eyes would be on his return in Week 10. He'd prefer they weren't, though, hellbent on keeping the Cowboys focused on the task at hand: moving to 7-2 on the season.
"Emotional? I think, really, you have to get ready to go win and that's really where my mind is as far as the game," said McCarthy on Monday as the Cowboys exit their bye week. "I mean, obviously, I've got great memories about Green Bay and my time there but no, I mean, I'm four years removed from working there and I'm really looking forward to taking our team up there. …
"It's an experience that I want them to maximize but, most importantly, we're going up there to win the game."
Rodgers and the Packers are currently trapped in a tailspin, their loss on Sunday to the Detroit Lions marking their fifth consecutive since Week 4, sitting at 3-6 on the season - a record largely fueled by an inability to get anything going offensively.
That's something safety Jayron Kearse hopes to keep going next weekend but, unlike McCarthy, Kearse says players are feeling a bit of added motivation beyond the obvious one of notching a win against Rodgers and the hated Packers.
"This one, for us, thinking back to the rivalry - we're not really thinking [about that] much," said Kearse. "We wanna get this one for our head coach, being that he was there for some years. Just to go out there and take care of business for him, that's enough motivation for us to go up there and do some tremendous things."
And tremendous things by the Cowboys is exactly what McCarthy wants to see at Lambeau Field.
"I really want to win the game. Is that good enough?" said McCarthy of feeling any added motivation himself. "I mean, it'd be great. We're 6-2 - this is for me, it's really the same as it's always been. You have a chance to really take a deep dive into the things that we've done very well and things that we need to improve on, and that's really what we spent [Monday] on. I talked about the Green Bay experience.
"I don't think I would have been doing my job if I didn't address it. Trust me, I'm the last person that wants to create any type of distraction or questions for someone else because, you know, we're at the point here now we're starting the third quarter of the season. We know what it takes to win a football game and they're obviously coming off a tough loss [against the Lions].
"We're really trying to get an advantage today and we're going to be spending the afternoon working on Green Bay - that's really where my mind is at."
That said, McCarthy also visibly fought back tears when discussing his return to a city that also has a street named after him, and he understands there are several current Cowboys assistant coaches who were once by his side in Green Bay that'll feel the same tug to their heartstrings - e.g., Al Harris, Rob Davis, Joe Philbin, etc.
"Well definitely, there's 10 of us that did spend time there," said McCarthy. "Sometimes life gives you an opportunity to go full circle to go back and show how much you've grown, and that's part of our contribution to winning the game this week. … I think anytime a team from this part of the country goes north. There's a difference - the grass is different, the weather is changing - so I'm really focused on making sure our team is ready to do the things we need to do to win the game, you know, and just make sure they're ready for this stadium.
"You know, a lot of our guys have never played there. … We've talked about it briefly this morning and we all want to go there and win the game."
And, at some point before the game, he'll stop by the street named after him to make sure they didn't change it. Should the Cowboys win, he'll probably want to check again before the team flight departs for Dallas.