With the stakes much higher for another reunion in a wild-card game at the home of the Cowboys on Sunday, McCarthy can use the benefit of hindsight.
“I regretted it,” said McCarthy, who coached up north for 12-plus seasons and won a Super Bowl on Dallas’ home field to cap the 2010 season. “That doesn’t even need to come into our energy base. I answered the questions honestly in here last year about my experience up there. It just will not help us win. So if it doesn’t help us win a game, I’m not interested in it. I apologize.”
McCarthy didn’t completely shut down the questions, but was less-than-enthusiastic with the answers.
The franchise hasn’t even reached an NFC championship game since the most recent of five Super Bowl titles to cap the 1995 season.
McCarthy went that far three other times, in addition to his title-winning season, with the Packers.
“I think the biggest thing is playoff time and we talked about it at the team meeting (Monday), this is a time for all of us to be selfish,” McCarthy said. “Because we’ve put so much into this season, getting ready for the season. We’re right where we need to be.”
His last playoff victory with the Packers turned out to be a 34-31 win at the Cowboys — keyed by Aaron Rodgers’ improbable completion to tight end Jared Cook in the final seconds — when Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott was a rookie during the 2016 season.
McCarthy, who turned 60 this season, was fired less than two years after that victory during a second consecutive losing season for Green Bay. The Packers made the playoffs nine times under McCarthy.
“Hell of a coach and I’m always appreciative of Mike,” said defensive tackle Kenny Clark, one of three currently healthy Packers who played for McCarthy. “He’s one of the guys that brought me here. I’ve got a lot of respect for him and him giving me a chance.”
The Cowboys had a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter of McCarthy’s return before Rodgers led Green Bay’s rally in a 31-28 victory.
It was the only loss in a seven-game stretch that put Dallas solidly in the playoff picture with a month to go last season. But it stung for McCarthy.
Now he’s doing everything to keep the focus on the players, which doesn’t surprise safety Jayron Kearse. He’s a former NFC North guy himself, starting his career in Minnesota before a season with Detroit.
“I’m pretty sure he’s not going to let that get in the way of the things that we need to do,” Kearse said. “It’s not Mike McCarthy vs. Green Bay. It’s the Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay. And that’s something that the players need to understand as well. We want to go out there and win this thing for coach, but let’s understand this is a team that’s in our way.”
McCarthy is 2-0 in Dallas-Green Bay playoff games. The Packers won during the 2014 season in what turned out to be Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s final playoff game.
The most significant moment was McCarthy’s decision to challenge Dez Bryant’s fourth down catch on a deep ball just shy of the Green Bay goal line. The catch was overturned, and the Packers ran off the final four minutes in a 26-21 divisional-round victory.
When he was introduced as the Dallas coach in 2020, McCarthy got the obligatory question, “Did Dez catch it?” Perhaps he was still half a Packers coach in that moment.
Closure came with the trip to Green Bay last season, and makes this replay a little easier.
“Personally, it helps me,” McCarthy said. “I think the biggest thing I got out of going back there was I got to see a lot of people I didn’t get to see at the end. We would’ve liked to have won the game, and at the end of the day, this is my team. I’m a Dallas Cowboy. This is our opportunity, and I just want to make sure I’m doing my part, and that’s supporting everything in winning this game.”