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McVay kicking himself over dubious decisions that doomed Rams

Sean McVay Sean McVay - The Canadian Press

Regrets, Sean McVay has a few.

Less than two years after shepherding the Los Angeles Rams to a triumph in Super Bowl 56, McVay's dubious decisions doomed LA to a 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions and his former quarterback Jared Goff.

McVay burned one timeout 90 seconds into the second half and another with 13:47 left in the game. That left the Rams with one timeout when they reached the Lions 34 just under the five-minute mark only to see a holding call push them back 10 yards and almost certainly out of field-goal range.

A subsequent incompletion left the Rams facing fourth-and-14 from the Lions 44 and McVay with an unenviable choice of going for it, trying a 62-yard field goal or punting and pinning his hopes on his defense getting another stop.

He opted to punt, a decision the Surrender Index rated as pretty jittery, saying, “this punt ranks at the 99.2nd percentile of cowardly punts of the 2023 season, and the 98th percentile of all punts since 1999."

The Lions took over at their 13 and coach Dan Campbell put both the game and his trust in Goff's hands, calling for a pair of passes that netted first downs.

Because McVay didn't use his final timeout until after the two-minute warning, Goff needed only to take three knees in victory formation to send Ford Field into a frenzy.

“Still having a timeout and four minutes, the way our defense was playing, we were hoping to get a stop,” McVay explained. “Hindsight is 20/20. Certainly regret that decision now.”

McVay remains one of the game's brightest young minds and deserves plenty of credit for getting a 3-6 team to win seven of its final eight games after their bye and return to the playoffs after a year away.

This loss dented his reputation a little bit, however, and it came two days after he lost his title as the NFL’s youngest head coach when the New England Patriots replaced icon Bill Belichick with 37-year-old Jerod Mayo, who’s a month younger than McVay.

Belichick's departure made Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin the league's longest tenured head coach at 17 years.

Although Tomlin has never had a losing season. the Steelers' 31-17 loss at Buffalo on Monday night after an unprecedented snow postponement marked his fourth straight early playoff exit.

Tomlin, who hasn't won a playoff game in seven years, uncharacteristically blew off a reporter and walked away from his postgame news conference without responding when asked about his coaching future in Pittsburgh, where he has a year left on his contract.

The league's wacky wild-card weekend also featured a pair of coming out parties by young quarterbacks C.J. Stroud and Jordan Love and another first-round faceplant by the Dallas Cowboys.

The most consequential decision in Dallas might very well have been Matt LeFleur's choice to receive and not defer when the Packers won the coin toss.

Love led the Packers on a methodical 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that chewed up more than seven minutes, setting the tone for their stunning 48-32 blowout of the 'Boys.

The Cowboys trailed 27-0 and 48-16 and spent the entire game discombobulated with lighter defensive fronts as they played catch-up all afternoon.

Too bad Jimmy Johnson wasn't on their sideline instead of in their ring of honor. They might have been fired up enough to break through the playoff wall that only Barry Switzer has managed to do since Johnson went 7-1 in the playoffs to earn his Hall of Fame credentials — and, last month, a long-overdue spot in the ring of fame that encircles the third level of suites at AT&T Stadium.

The 80-year-old Hall of Fame coach gave an impassioned pep talk on Fox's halftime show that made 52-year-old Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan and 34-year-old retired tight end Rob Gronkowski want to ditch their designer duds and dust off their old shoulder pads.

With the second-seeded Cowboys stunningly trailing seventh-seeded Green Bay by three touchdowns, a fired-up Johnson was asked what message he would have for his old team after its awful start.

Johnson stared into the camera and right into the souls of millions of viewers, then let loose like he used to when he was leading America's Team to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in the 1990s before his famous split with team owner Jerry Jones.

“You get your rear end in there and you play the way you know how to play!” Johnson scowled. "We can win the game. We're gonna open it up, we're going to go fast tempo. Defense, get after Jordan Love! You can't give him that much time. You do what you're supposed to do, we'll win this game!”

There was more energy in those 30 seconds than Mike McCarthy's star-studded Cowboys displayed all afternoon.

Shortly after the loss, Jones said he hadn't given much thought to leadership changes as a result of the franchise's latest and arguably its greatest first-round flop.

Pundits immediately penciled in Belichick as the answer to Dallas' playoff pratfalls. But would a buttoned-up coaching icon who hoisted the Lombardi trophy six times in New England be willing to work alongside an owner/GM who unceasingly has a say in — and something to stay about — all personnel moves?

Since Switzer won five of seven playoff games, including a Super Bowl with the roster constructed during the volatile Jones-Johnson pairing, the Cowboys have won just four of 16 playoff games under Chan Gailey (0-2), Bill Parcells (0-2), Wade Phillips (1-2), Jason Garrett (2-3) and McCarthy (1-3).