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NEW ORLEANS – Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy knew it would be hard to watch Thursday night’s game from a hotel in Frisco, Texas. He just did not know how difficult.
The good news is that the McCarthy’s Cowboys beat the New Orleans Saints 27-17 to end a two-game losing streak and open more space over the Washington Football Team in the NFC East with five games to play.
“It was harsh, I’m not going to lie,” McCarthy told ESPN by phone after the match. “I’m proud of the guys and how it all turned out, but I’ll never do it again.”
McCarthy was placed in COVID-19 protocols over the weekend after testing positive, and Dan Quinn took over as head coach on Thursday. Five other coaches, including offensive line coach Joe Philbin and assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko, and two players (Terence Steele and Nahshon Wright) missed the match.
“Adversity victory, ugly victory, but you want to define what you need to have those victories, especially when you get to later in the year when you play against teams trying to get to the playoffs or run,” McCarthy said. “This is a great experience for us. Let’s face it, this is today’s NFL. You need to be able to win with change.”
The Cowboys had lots of changes.
Quinn is usually in the coaches ’booth for the game and calls defense, but he was on the sidelines Thursday. Tight ends coach Lunda Wells took over the offensive line responsibility. Offensive assistant Chase Haslett worked with the tight ends. Vice President of Staff Will McClay was on the sidelines, as was consultant Ben McAdoo. Assistant head coach Rob Davis was on a headset for the first time with McCarthy out.
“One thing you’ve heard me say before is that I love doing tough things with a group of people, and this was one of those moments,” said Quinn, who was the Atlanta Falcons’ head coach for six seasons and had a 2-3 record inside the Superdome. “We got amazing people to get the job done. We wanted to make sure Mike and all the guys who were missing let them know we got their backs. So honestly, that was the only thing I was nervous about. “I did not want to let him down. He has done a fantastic job of leading us to how it’s going to go down, the style of play that we wanted. But it was just a bold victory.”
Quinn’s defense contributed four takeaways, all interceptions, including a pick-six by defensive tackle Carlos Watkins. Running back Tony Pollard made it a two-score game in the third quarter with a 58-yard touchdown run, the longest run of his career and the longest run since Ezekiel Elliott had a 60-yard touchdown run in 2016.
It was the culmination of a week that forced the Cowboys to adapt on the go. McCarthy ran the meetings virtually all week, and he held his regular pregame meeting via the Internet on Thursday. Players and coaches practically met before and after drills that led into the match and they had to have their meals at The Star to go. With the three strength trainers in COVID protocols, players did not have access to the weight room all week and had to train on their own.
“This is one of those weeks where no job is not your job right now,” Quinn said.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones had a funny retort ready for Quinn after the game.
“I just told him with a win that he’s right there with Tom Landry,” Jones said, referring to the Hall of Fame coach and Cowboys’ winner of all time. “He can now say he’s the head coach of the Cowboys.”
But Quinn will be happy to be back in the coaching staff for next week’s game against Washington.
“I hope you will not see me again and I will hopefully be back on top for the next match and Mike will make all the progress we need to get him back on the pitch and a lot of others. guys too, “Quinn said. “We missed a number of guys today from the staff and a few players as well, so hopefully it hits us with some time to see if we can come back and get back to our normal state.”
McCarthy said he is feeling much better and hopes to be back in the office early next week when he either sends two negative tests separated by 24 hours or reaches 10-day quarantine.
He just knows he does not want to see his team play far away again.