FRISCO, Texas --- The 9-3 Dallas Cowboys are set to battle the 10-2 Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East on Sunday, and Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, like many of his players this time of year, will be entering Sunday night's game a little banged up.
McCarthy, 60, suffered abdominal pain on Wednesday and was later diagnosed with acute appendicitis. He underwent a procedure for acute appendicitis the same day, and it went well. He was at home as of Thursday, per a team spokesperson. Despite the surgery occurring on Wednesday, McCarthy has been "very involved" in the game-planning process, and he returned to The Star, the team's headquarters, on Friday, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones confirmed.
"There's no change in anything he's going to be doing [Sunday night]," Jones said on 105.3 The Fan on Friday, via The Athletic. "We'll be business as usual."
McCarthy did his Thursday night playcall sheet meeting with quarterback Dak Prescott and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer over Zoom.
"Had a couple of phone calls with him today, he's feeling great," Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said Thursday. "He's actually very involved. The good thing is, the way we game plan, we do a lot of things early. We frontload stuff. We get to first and second down, third down, really on Monday and Tuesday, which is great. He's been very involved. He's in good spirits. It's always good when he has a lot of suggestions when you talk to him on the phone. Well, what do you think of this? That's when I know he's feeling good."
Stomach pain was the first of McCarthy's symptoms.
"He's like, 'Ah, I don't feel good, you know?' So when something's wrong, you don't feel right," Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Wednesday. "So he's an early riser, so when you see him there, we kind of pulled up at the same time, walked in together so he was going right over to see [Cowboys athletic trainer] Jim [Maurer] and thankfully did right there. As tough as he is, like, 'I'll fight through it,' and then next thing you know you're like, 'this is not good. Glad he went, got squared away. Good news for him, he's a fast healer. So he's been through it before, so we certainly expect him back quickly, getting his procedure done today."
Quinn, formerly the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons for six season from 2015-2020 -- including the team's run to Super Bowl LI in 2016 -- took to the podium Wednesday in place of McCarthy to explain a plan was in place for this type of event. McCarthy missed the Cowboys Week 13 game during the 2021 season at the New Orleans Saints on "Thursday Night Football" after testing positive for COVID-19. Dallas won 27-17 as its defense recorded four interceptions off of quarterback Taysom Hill. Quinn served as the head coach and handled game management decisions that day.
"You always have to have a contingency plan," Quinn said Wednesday. "Mike is great about that. I think we all learned a lot a few years back in COVID. Coach down, player down, how does that go? He's done a fantastic job of mapping, not just him but me, anybody else who could be in that same spot to say hey, this is the next step and this is how we go. We're super organized and ready for that."
McCarthy, the Cowboys' offensive play-caller, is, as Jones said, anticipated to be coaching against the Eagles on "Sunday Night Football." Quinn refused to even talk about the hypothetical situation of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer calling the offensive plays Sunday night should McCarthy miss coaching the game.
"You really think that tough Irishman is going to miss this game?" Quinn said with a smile. "We're certainly anticipating Mike being back for the game. We'll hold it down for practices. Knowing him, he'll be online tonight wanting to go through red zone and third down and everything else. We expect him to be rocking by game day."
Prescott had a similar response to Quinn's about McCarthy's availability.
"Yeah, I figured that from the jump, knowing that guy," Prescott said Thursday when asked if he thinks McCarthy will be on the sideline calling plays on Sunday. "Knowing how tough he is too and how tough he says he is with a great chance to prove it. So, yeah, I figured he was."
The quarterback had much more of a straight face when talking about how McCarthy's has factored into his success this season. In his first season with McCarthy calling offensive plays in Dallas, Prescott leads the NFL in passing touchdowns (26) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (26-6) while ranking in the top five in numerous other passing metrics.
Dak Prescott stats in 2023 season
|NFL QB RANK
|Expected Points Added/Play
"Yeah, his playcalling has been great honestly, and it's a credit to him and the communication," Prescott said Thursday. "It's communication throughout the week and then the same sense, Schotty [offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] and the way that they're game planning and installing early in the week. And not just only him. [Quarterbacks coach Scott] Tolzien in the red zone, L-Dub [tight ends coach Lunda Wells] the short yardage goal line and [offensive line coach Mike] Solari in the run game. I mean everybody deserves their credit where it's due. I mean our protection plans from [run game coordinator Jeff] Blasko and [assistant tight ends coach Chase] Haslett, it's a full team deal and everybody is working hand in hand. As I've mentioned before, their chemistry as coaches and working hand in hand with us, being accountable, holding us accountable and us holding ourselves accountable is really where it's all stemming from. But Mike's definitely, as people say, in their bag. You know what I mean? He's firing them off. He's confident about it and we're confident when it comes in."
Quinn, Schottenheimer and special teams coordinator John "Bones" Fassel will run the team's practices until McCarthy, 60, returns to the sidelines. Despite missing their head coach, the Cowboys don't plan on changing a thing about their practice regimen throughout the week.
"What's good about Mike and the system here is it's all laid out about how we go and what we would do from yesterday, today, all the way through the game and the meetings and schedules," Quinn said. "So pretty easy in that one. You just take it and run with it between myself and Brian and Bones, we've got it covered and we're ready to go today, expect a great practice just like it's been set up to do. We're ready to go do that."
All-Pro linebacker Micah Parsons, the NFL's 2023 leader in quarterback pressures (78) and quarterback pressure rate (20.3%, best among players with at least 250 pass-rush snaps in this season), is one of the Cowboys biggest warriors. However, he gave kudos to McCarthy for deciding not to power through the issue and get it taken care of right away despite it coming during the week first place in the division is on the line.
"Just found out this morning and just sending prayers to Mike, hopefully surgery was good and he gets back healthy," Parsons said Wednesday. "Coach Mike's energy is very contagious, but this is just an extremely rare circumstance. He hasn't missed anything, ever. This is for him to be available for the long run. I always believe in take care of your business now and see you later."
Three-time Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence credited that Thursday night win in New Orleans for preparing the team to be without McCarthy during the week.
"Just found out this morning, shoutout to COVID," Lawrence said Wednesday. "It helped us learn how to adjust quickly. Definitely praying for him to get back healthy as soon as possible. He knows we're getting ready, and we will be ready.
When McCarthy does return, before or by Sunday night, his players guarantee they'll be ready to roll.
"I feel like Mike has built a great structure around here for us to continue to keep up the pieces and keep going," Lawrence said. "I feel like it was no stress, no struggle to the day. I feel like we did a great job of adjusting and making sure we were on time and locked in. We understand what comes with this weekend. A big rivalry game. We know the Eagles are coming into town. We're locked in, ready to have fun."