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At long last, the 2020-2021 NFL season is over for the Dallas Cowboys. But Mike McCarthy & Co. certainly made sure, as usual, that there was plenty of drama in their Week 17 loss to the New York Giants, a loss that officially eliminated “America’s Team” from the NFL playoffs.

After getting down by double digits in the first half, the Cowboys fought back in the second half and got themselves within a point of the lead. But a questionable decision on McCarthy’s part not to challenge a catch that didn’t look like a catch in the fourth quarter from Giants wideout Dante Pettis allowed New York extra yardage to tack on three points. A different decision could have changed the game entirely and could have allowed the Cowboys to go with an entirely different strategy on their final offensive drive, which resulted in an Andy Dalton interception that handed the Giants the game.

Following the game, McCarthy gave a weak explanation on why he decided not to challenge the catch.

The play in question

So if you didn’t see the play we’re talking about during the Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants matchup on Sunday, here’s what happened. With 7:07 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Giants had a 20-19 lead and the ball but were facing 3rd & 16 from the Cowboys’ 42-yard line. Daniel Jones completed a 10-yard pass to Dante Pettis, who was playing in his first game for the Giants and had scored a touchdown earlier on, setting up 4th & 6.

However, while called a catch on the field, replays clearly showed that the ball hit the ground without Pettis’ hands underneath, which, if overturned, would have brought 4th & 16 and a 60-yard field goal try (if New York even went that route) for Giants kicker Graham Gano. But Mike McCarthy chose not to challenge the “catch,” which shouldn’t be a surprise given the fact he only threw the challenge flag twice all season for the Dallas Cowboys.

The Giants lined up somewhat quickly, although there was plenty of time for McCarthy to challenge, and Gano nailed the 50-yarder to give New York a 23-19 lead, which turned out to be the final score.

Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys could have done things differently on their final drive down just one instead of four

Mike McCarthy Dallas Cowboys
Mike McCarthy | Elsa/Getty Images

Now, there’s no guarantee that Graham Gano would have missed a 60-yard field goal if that’s the route the Giants would have gone had Mike McCarthy challenged the Dante Pettis catch. After all, he once hit a 63-yarder for the Carolina Panthers. However, with the swirling winds at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, hitting a 60-yarder doesn’t seem likely, which means the Giants would have punted, right?

Either way, the Cowboys getting the ball down one, not four, changes everything. Outside of that last Dalton interception, the Dallas offense was clicking much better in the second half and that late pick actually probably doesn’t even happen given the fact that the Cowboys could have run down the clock quite a bit as New York didn’t have any timeouts. Dallas kicker Greg Zuerlein was perfect on the day, including a 46-yarder and a 57-yarder, and Dallas certainly would have had confidence in him to give them a 22-20 lead, especially from where they ended up on that final drive.

Again, there’s no guarantee that things play out this way but the Dallas Cowboys simply have a much better chance to win this game if Mike McCarthy challenges that catch from Pettis.

Mike McCarthy offered up a horrible explanation on why he didn’t challenge the catch


Why Are the Dallas Cowboys Called ‘America’s Team?’

So why exactly did Mike McCarthy choose not to challenge the Dante Pettis catch?

Well, in the postgame presser for the Dallas Cowboys, he offered up the excuse that it was just “too close” and didn’t want to burn a timeout (h/t NBC Sports).

“Just felt it was too close. Felt it was a bang-bang situation and the fact of the matter is we were in a tight game and the three timeouts was obviously of high value there. We just didn’t think there was enough information to overturn it.”

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy

Seriously? Too close? Even Mike Pereira, you know, the former supervisor of NFL officials that sits and looks at replays for a living says the catch from Pettis would have been overturned. No, not all of this is Mike McCarthy’s fault as he has to have people telling him to challenge the call. But given the field position and the fact that this was a must-win game, just burn the timeout. He obviously saw the Giants trying to rush to the line so it’s clear that even New York knew that it wasn’t a catch.

Mike McCarthy isn’t going to lose his job over this as Jerry Jones won’t want to look foolish for bringing him in and then letting him go after just one year. But there are a lot of things that the Dallas Cowboys need to fix in the offseason and game management is certainly one of those things.