Cowlishaw: Cowboys season ends with lousy referee explanation, controversy

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) walks disconsolately off the field after the final seconds tick of the clock in Green By’s 26-21 win during the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Green Bay Packers NFL football game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Sunday, January 11, 2015. (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

GREEN BAY, Wis. — It looked like a catch. That was true for innocent bystanders and neutral observers, and it was painfully true for Dallas fans.

But the Cowboys are the team without a leg to stand on when it comes to sympathy for overturned officials’ calls. And yet it appeared Dez Bryant had gotten one, two, maybe three legs down to put Dallas in position to knock off the Packers right here in Lambeau Field, the site of the Cowboys’ most painful playoff defeat.

Then it was ripped away and, before you knew it, Green Bay was celebrating a 26-21 victory and a date with Seattle.

“I did think it was a catch,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “He had three feet down and made a move common to the game. But let me make it really clear: This game wasn’t about officiating. We had 60 minutes … and we didn’t do the things necessary to win the game.”

A week ago, Lions fans and Cowboys haters couldn’t believe their eyes and ears when a pass interference flag was picked up, helping to fuel Dallas’ 24-20 rally past Detroit.

This time it was a catch Bryant made inside the 1-yard line, a deep throw on fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 32, another roll of the dice from the Cowboys’ ramblin’, gamblin’ coach. Less than five minutes to play, Packers leading 26-21, it looked like the Cowboys’ playmaking receiver had put Dallas in position to regain the lead it had held for most of a cold but windless afternoon here.

In fact, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he was unaware the Packers had even challenged the call.

“I thought they were trying to decide where to mark the ball,” Jones said. “It hadn’t even occurred to me we wouldn’t have possession within a yard of the goal line.”

But, like Garrett, he stopped short of blaming officials for the end of the Cowboys’ best season in five years.

“We’ve all agreed to go with the judgment of the officials in this league,” he said. “I don’t mean to be cavalier about it, but this isn’t a catch in the annals of NFL history. Just like it would have been a catch had it not been overturned, just like it wasn’t interference on 59 [Anthony Hitchens] last week, just like [Ndamukong] Suh played and wasn’t suspended.

“That’s real, and we’ve all said we would live with it.”

For his part, Bryant couldn’t figure out what had been called.

“I’ve never seen that a day in my life,” he said. “I feel if anything it was a catch and they took it away. I want to know why it wasn’t a catch.”

He’s not alone.

Referee Gene Steratore told a pool reporter that an elbow or knee or anything touching the ground is irrelevant in this case and that if the ball pops loose, it doesn’t even matter if the receiver then repossesses it. “There were a couple of angles that show the ball actually hitting the ground and then the receiver losing possession of it as well,” Steratore said.

For those who have the old “ground can’t cause a fumble” saying in their head, the ground can, in fact, cause an incompletion.

But does it make sense? Isn’t a player who catches the ball, takes two steps and lunges for the goal line, only to have the ball pop up before securing it, far different from the guy who uses a bounce off the ground to trap the football?

It doesn’t matter. This is a league with rules no one understands. For all the calls that go against defensive backs in this era, maybe an unfair bounce against a receiver is karma.

But that’s a lousy explanation to the Cowboys for why Green Bay is bound for Seattle.

As Garrett reminded us, there were 60 minutes of football played Sunday, and the Cowboys had opportunities to grab a win without Bryant’s heroics. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers was so limited by his calf injury that he never took snaps under center (until taking a knee at the end of the game), and he was almost helpless to move out of harm’s way in the pocket.

But the Packers got the Cowboys off-balance with a no-back spread offense in the final quarter for an 80-yard touchdown march to grab their first lead since 7-0.

Tony Romo tried to rally the troops and, with a big hand from DeMarco Murray’s 30-yard run, moved the team to the Green Bay 32-yard line for the fateful fourth-and-2.

“I can’t feel it’s over at all,” Jones said. “It wasn’t over 10 minutes ago. It will soak in here as we head back to Dallas. The morning after is always worse than the day of the game.” dallas morning news

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