Incomplete

It's amazing that a season that sprinted past every reasonable expectation could end feeling so incredibly incomplete.

The 2014-15 Dallas Cowboys were supposed to stink. They returned scraps of what was one of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL in the previous season. To make matters worse, they lost their best player, Sean Lee, to a season-ending ACL injury in OTA's.

The quarterback was coming off back surgery, again. The diva wide receiver was going into a contract year, which would surely be a distraction.

But none of that held the Cowboys back. Sure, there were defensive lapses, Romo scares and some unwanted contract headlines here and there, but they did as their coach instructed them. They fought. They went 12-4 and continued to fight last weekend, coming back to win a playoff game against Detroit in a most un-Cowboys way.

Today? Dallas played fine, but failed in at least three key sequences to make plays that could have changed the game in course of its favor. Instead, the Cowboys left the game in doubt late and a call changed the course of their history. First the three sequences:

The End Of The First Half

The end of the first half was disastrous for the Cowboys. First, they jumped offsides moving a 46-yard field goal attempt back to a 51-yard attempt. While Dan Bailey is normally terrific, that's a massive difference in the cold with a frozen ball. Bailey missed the initial attempt, somewhat making the penalty a mute point, but the psyche changes once the whistle blows, so who knows what would have happened. The one that counted? It was blocked and not even close.

The Packers took over with solid field position and slowly moved the football until rookie Demarcus Lawrence came up with an enormous sack of Aaron Rodgers, setting up a 3rd and 15 where the Packers needed a large chunk of yardage to get back into field goal range. The one thing you cannot do defensively is give up a long completion there.

They gave up a long completion. Aaron Rodgers dropped a dime to Randal Cobb for 31 yards and a first down.

The Packers' Mason Crosby nailed the field goal a play after another Rodgers completion. The Bailey miss and the Crosby essentially made it a six point swing going into the half. The final margin was five.

DeMarco Murray's Fumble

The Cowboys' first possession of the second half came with 12:19 to go in the 3rd quarter. They started to move the ball and then there it was: A massive hole for DeMarco Murray opened off the right side. He had a full head of steam. The only problem was he lost the football.
Fumbles happen. These are massive human beings running into each other at incredible speeds. This fumble did not happen in a massive collision, or even as someone tried with all their might to rip the ball loose. It happened on a simple swipe. It happened in softer than routine contact.

That's inexcusable. Troy Aikman said on the FOX broadcast he would have "hit his head on the goalpost." The Cowboys would have lead 21-10.

Randall Cobb's Fumble

Murray's fumble resulted in another Crosby field goal, shrinking the deficit to one. The Cowboys responded with purposeful drive that only saw 2nd down once. Dallas gained massive chunk after massive chunk before Murray finished the drive with a short touchdown scamper.
On the ensuing kickoff, Randall Cobb fumbled. The ball squirted high in the air before hitting the turf directly beneath Cowboys tight end James Hanna. It was at this point we found out why Hanna is the blocking tight end. The ball went through his hands and the Packers recovered.

If Hanna had managed to hold on to the football, the Cowboys would have had great field position, momentum and a chance to build a 28-13 lead with another touchdown. Above all the others plays, that was their moment.
Instead the Packers stayed close and eventually took the lead. It set up a chance for Tony Romo to play hero in his hometown and a fateful 4th and 2.

The Catch*



No one wants a game to hinge on a referee's call and that's what happened to the Cowboys for the second straight week. Last week's was as difficult to call and, like this one, was changed. Of course, last week's was changed unceremoniously to the point of absurdity while this one was done via replay and by the book.

Both calls were incredibly close. Had they been kept in their original states, the other fan bases would've been upset.

It's not that referees took the game out of the players hands. The game simply dictated the referees had to make difficult calls and they did the best they could.

Unlike last week's call, this one didn't have to be so difficult. That's what makes this scenario so frustrating.

The one thing that everyone agrees upon is that we all want this to be a catch. We don't want it be a catch so we can tell our grandkids about one of the best plays we'll ever see with our own eyes given the circumstances and general spectacularity of it turned out to be an incompletion. We want it to be a catch because every ounce of our rational football logic tells us it should be a catch.

Dez Bryant catches the football. He gets both feet down and takes an additional step. He dives for the goal line. In the meantime, he's in contact with a defender. His arm hits. The ball comes loose.



We don't care if every referee on television and the ones that actually made the decision tell us that the rules were enforced correctly. The rule requires a law degree to decipher. This is football. We shouldn't need a law degree.
The bottom of this rule (Item 1) is the problem for the Cowboys - "he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground." My retort would be, "why?"

If a player establishes control, why does it matter whether he's run five yards or 50 yards? Dez Bryant secured the ball, touched the ground with both feet and maintained the ball long enough to make a football move. And yes, it was a football move. He dove for the goal line, something players do all the time. But that goes out the window because he was falling down?

This of course makes no sense, which is not the fault of the referees, but the fault of the rules. The NFL's Competition Committee should change the rule in the off-season. In fact, they should have in 2010 when Calvin Johnson fell victim to a similar fate.

None of that helps the Cowboys now. Instead there is the cruel reality that a team coached by Jason Garrett, a man who has preached "process" for five years, sees its season end in large part by not completing one.