FRISCO, Texas – Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy didn't waste any time making his presence felt on his first day back with the team after a 10-day absence because of a positive COVID-19 test.
At the end of a long answer about the Dallas offense Thursday going into Sunday's visit to Washington, McCarthy lit up social media by saying the Cowboys would win the game.
“We’re comfortable with who we are and where we are,” McCarthy said. “I’m excited about what’s in front of us. We’re going to win this game. I’m confident in that.”
As expected, Washington players were asked to respond after practice. Washington (6-6) is second to the NFC East-leading Cowboys (8-4), but seeking a third consecutive victory in the rivalry for the first time since the 1980s.
“The only guarantee in this world is death and taxes,” defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said.
Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott was happy to hear such strong words from his coach, and used an expletive to say so.
“It doesn’t put us in a bad spot,” Prescott said. “I don’t think he said anything different than everyone in this building's thoughts. He just voiced it. Now we got to make sure we’re accountable for our words.”
McCarthy tested positive between the Dallas loss to Las Vegas on Thanksgiving and a win at New Orleans a week later. The Saints game was the first time in 15 seasons as a head coach that McCarthy missed a game.
The Cowboys are emerging from their second COVID-19 outbreak since close to the end of training camp. The first wave eased a month into the season. The second one is easing a month before the playoffs.
If rookie defensive back Nahshon Wright returns as expected Friday, the Cowboys won't have anyone on the COVID-19 reserve list. Eight coaches and staff members have missed games as well.
McCarthy said he was eager and happy to be back, and therefore probably went on too long in his first meeting with his players Thursday.
The question that sparked his headline-grabbing line was about an offense that hasn't looked much like the NFL's No. 1 unit, where it's been ranked most of the season, because of injuries and COVID-19 issues.
“Which are all great things over the course of a year,” he began. "You can’t just win one way in this league and it’s not practical to think you’re going to win with the same guys lining up the same 11 every week. It’s just not practical.
“But these guys are very accountable. The work ethic of our football team, the whole space, is very high. We know what people think of us. We love that.”
What came next didn't seem to bother his players.
“I love it,” running back Tony Pollard said. “It makes us go harder. It just shows that he believes in us, he puts his trust in us and everything he has, he’s behind us all the way.”
McCarthy showed players video of the Washington-Dallas rivalry going back to the 1970s, when former Navy quarterback Roger Staubach called it the best in which he had played.
The coach also spent time with the administrative staff on his first day back, going over schedules headed into the holidays, which he said is another challenge related to the coronavirus.
“Just really to make sure we have things tied up,” said McCarthy, who is still staying in the team hotel because his family has been dealing with positive COVID-19 tests as well.
“Just making sure things are tight because these are the most important games of the year, starting with this one. This is December football. I mean, December football defines your season.”
And McCarthy helped define one of the club's biggest rivalries.
NOTES: WR Noah Brown (groin) was placed on injured reserve, sidelining him at least three weeks. The move should clear spots on the active roster for DE Randy Gregory (calf strain, out four games) and DT Neville Gallimore (elbow, out all season). ... Pollard injured a foot on his 58-yard touchdown run in last week's 27-17 win over New Orleans and says he will be a game-time decision.