Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys testing the theory that an elite head coach is essential to win a Super Bowl

Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy just beat the Patriots in overtime, yet there's plenty of doubt he can win the Super Bowl.

The Dallas Cowboys might be so good that not even head coach Mike McCarthy’s most puzzling decisions can derail them. That theory was put to the test late Sunday afternoon when the Cowboys won at their sloppiest and McCarthy was at his most exasperating.

The Cowboys overcame two red-zone turnovers, 115 penalty yards, and McCarthy’s unhelpful game management to beat the New England Patriots 35-29 in overtime.

Dallas Cowboys outlast New England Patriots in OT

More than any other reason, the Cowboys won because they had Dak Prescott, who was fabulous once again. Prescott completed 36 of 51 passes for 445 yards and 3 touchdowns — including a 35-yard strike to CeeDee Lamb that ended the game.

Turnovers and penalties haven’t really been an issue for Dallas this year. And there’s no reason to believe they will be a huge issue going forward. Even after Sunday’s thriller, the Cowboys are third in turnover margin (+7).

But McCarthy is who he is at this point. He’s going to do a couple of things every week that make you scratch your head. The broader question is this: Will those decisions matter? Or will the Cowboys — who on Sunday gained over 500 yards for the second time in six games and over 400 for the fifth — make them moot by sheer dominance?

On the surface, it’s a laughable question. The NFL is designed to make games competitive. Eventually, you need a head coach to be an active participant in a win — not a passenger along for the ride or, even worse, an impediment.

And there were a number of times Sunday when McCarthy impeded his team’s chances at success.

Head coach Mike McCarthy’s questionable decisions

McCarthy burned a challenge on Dallas’ first possession when it was pretty obvious Ezekiel Elliott was stopped short of the first-down marker. He decided to kick on fourth-and-2 from the Patriots’ 33 down a point late in regulation, even though his offense ran over New England for 6.9 yards per play Sunday. Greg Zuerlein’s 51-yard field goal attempt was wide left.

And he bizarrely called timeout ahead of Zuerlein’s game-tying field goal attempt with 24 seconds left in the fourth instead of letting it run the whole way down.

Each time, McCarthy’s immensely talented roster bailed him out. And if it worked against Bill Belichick, there’s reason to believe it might work against whoever he faces in January.

For sure, it’s a risky proposition, and Dallas would benefit more than any other team from a first-round bye. The more games the Cowboys play in a single-elimination format, the higher the likelihood that one of those contests comes down to game management.

It’s not like this is some obscure theory. We have real-life examples of how McCarthy can hold teams back. He was the Green Bay Packers head coach for 13 years and made the postseason in nine of them. But even with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback, the Packers reached the Super Bowl just once, and McCarthy’s postseason record was 10-8.

“We need these kind of wins,” McCarthy told his team after the game. “We’ve been kicking ass here for a couple weeks. These [close] games will go a long way in December and January. Awesome. We had a lot of things go against us. Just kept playing, kept playing.”

Adam Beasley is the National NFL Analyst and Insider for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Adam’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @AdamHBeasley.

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