ARLINGTON, Texas — Mike McCarthy admitted he made a mistake.
The Cowboys coach didn’t mean to call a timeout with 23 seconds to play in the first half, his team readying for a field goal on fourth-and-4 after one of Dallas’ three failed attempts to score a touchdown in the red zone.
Thus concludes the decisions McCarthy copped to regretting during a 41-16 loss on Thanksgiving to the Washington Football Team.
No, McCarthy doesn’t regret the decision to call a pass play to CeeDee Lamb on fourth-and-one in the second quarter with a chance to instead trust Ezekiel Elliott or Andy Dalton (who converted keepers twice on third down and another time on fourth) to tuck it up the middle.
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“We had one-on-one on the perimeter,” McCarthy said. “I think everybody saw what happened on the play. Those are plays that you look to create opportunities and it was a good play call.”
And the first-year Cowboys coach sure won’t tell you he regrets the fake punt his staff dialed up in the fourth quarter when Dallas faced fourth-and-10 from its own 24-yard line, trailing by 4 points.
“There are certain things you look for tendency-wise on when and where,” McCarthy said. “Ultimately, it’s my responsibility when a play like that doesn’t work. But we’re trying to generate a big play. At that point in the game our information that you look for going into it, it was a solid call.”
That solid call not only failed to gain 10 yards, it failed to gain any. When long snapper L.P. Ladoucer snapped the ball to safety Darian Thompson rather than punter Hunter Niswander, Thompson pitched the ball to receiver Cedrick Wilson. Wilson had completed passes on offense and special teams trick plays earlier in the season. But this time, Washington linebacker Khaleke Hudson snuffed the call immediately, downing Wilson for a loss of a yard.
Make that only 23 yards between Washington’s offense and the end zone upon its return.
Football Team running back Antonio Gibson needed a single play to bust through an abandoned gap and extend Washington’s lead to 11. Dallas wouldn’t score again as Washington ballooned its lead to 25 points.
McCarthy balked at the notion of considering how blown momentum would hurt his team should the fake punt fail and Washington capitalize on another short field. He has confidence his players will convert, he said.
“You don’t get anywhere if you think about the negatives all the time,” McCarthy said. “Obviously, it was a solid play call. It’s a good play design. Their gunner made a good play. He came off it and put us in a high/low read for Cedrick. It’s a play that if we hit it, we’re sitting. That’s the nature of the plays.
“You can never hit them if you don’t call them and don’t believe in them. I clearly understood the situation when it was called.”
McCarthy said he also clearly understands the state of the NFC East and the implications of this loss on the Cowboys’ tenuous playoff chances. At 3-8, Dallas falls to last in the struggling division. Washington’s 4-7 is good for a half-game lead over Philadelphia, which hosts Seattle this week, and a full game over the Giants, who visit the Bengals. The Cowboys haven’t won consecutive games in McCarthy’s Dallas debut. They fell to Washington for just the second time in the franchises’ 10 Thanksgiving matchups.
“I think everyone understands the state of our division,” McCarthy said. “So, we’re going to reboot and we’re going to regroup. Obviously … we knew that we had an opportunity, a division opportunity. We understand how important that division games are.
“The fact of the matter is that we play Baltimore in seven days and we’ll be ready to go.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein