Cowboys did something no team has done in 87 years. It occurred in a win that rarely materialized under Jason Garrett.
Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, center with hand raised, celebrates an onside kick recovery in the second half of an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

A little over nine months ago, the Dallas Cowboys’ 2019 season and head coach Jason Garrett’s tenure effectively ended in the middle of a game against the Chicago Bears. The franchise badly needed a win against an injury-riddled and mediocre opponent, were lining up against a quarterback who was playing himself out of a job in Mitchell Trubisky, and had a prime opportunity to take control of the race for the NFC East title.

Rather than seizing the moment, Garrett’s Cowboys performed in a fashion that was typical at critical junctures — starting flat, making costly mistakes and wheezing into a 24-7 first-half deficit that had little chance of being reversed. This was a defining trait of Garrett-era teams: digging holes that couldn’t be overcome, while squandering talent in the face of opponents that should have been overmatched. Dallas would lose to the Bears 31-24 in that December game, absorbing a defeat that would ultimately be the difference between making the playoffs.

That’s the game I think about when I try to find perspective for Mike McCarthy’s first win in Dallas, a 40-39 victory against the Atlanta Falcons that was largely awful for 3 1/2 quarters, but remarkable enough in the final five minutes that one thought resonated: This kind of thing rarely happened under Garrett. Never, actually, considering the bumbling totality of falling behind 20-0 after one quarter, 29-10 at the half, then trailing 39-24 with less than six minutes left in the game.

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