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.

The Greatest Catch Ever

It is the greatest catch any of us have ever seen.



What makes it so great is that there is zero luck involved. It is pure, raw unadulterated skill. None of us could get lucky and make that catch messing around in the backyard. We're not athletic enough. We're not flexible enough. Our hands aren't big and strong enough and neither are 98% of NFL wide receivers. There may be five guys on earth who could make that catch and last night, one of them did.


I mean he freaking caught that. If you think of the best catches in football history, David Tyree's Super Bowl 47 catch immediately comes into play, as it should. It was remarkable. It was significant. It was also lucky as hell. The ball got pinned on his helmet. If you could jump as high as Tyree can, you can recreate it. "The Immaculate Reception" will likely happen in a backyard or two as families play football together this Thanksgiving. Good luck recreating this:


Lynn Swan, Santonio Holmes, Mario Manningham and many others have catches more significant. None of them have ever had a catch more spectacular. I watch Dez Bryant every week. He's done some of the most incredible things I've ever seen. He's never had a catch that good.

Simply put, it was the greatest catch in the history of ever.

Michael Sam to sign with Cowboys

After a very productive preseason, Michael Sam found himself on the outside looking in at a talented Rams defense and without a job. The first openly gay player drafted into the NFL is going to have to wait to play in it. It had nothing to do with his sexuality and everything to do with the reality that he's not a special talent by NFL standards. That said, he's good enough to be in the league and we knew he wouldn't be without a job for long. The Cowboys made that wait less than a week.

Sam is flying to Dallas tonight to take a physical tomorrow and sign with the team's practice squad. Despite many people wanting this story to go away, it can't until it happens. There's still history to be made and there likely will be soon.

For all his flaws as a general manager, Jerry Jones is a phenomenal owner and someone who cares an incredible amount about the well being of the NFL. In this interview with "The Afternoon Show," Adam Schefter (who broke the news) doesn't rule out that could have played a factor in Jones bringing in Sam.



It simply looks bad for the NFL when Sam produced in the preseason and didn't make a roster. Not making the Rams roster is one thing. He lost out to a player who has position flex (for non-football types, that means he can play multiple positions while Sam plays only one spot) on a loaded defense and nobody can argue with that. Not making any roster is a little harder to comprehend. It just didn't look good. Jones knew that. Roger Goddell knew that. Schefter didn't exactly rule out the commissioner "suggesting" Jones make a move, perhaps even in return for the league not pursuing tampering charges against Jerry Jones for talking with Adrian Peterson this off-season.

With that said, it's also a football decision. The Cowboys need edge rushers. Sam is that. He had as many sacks as anyone this preseason. He can play. The Cowboys need players that can play. The question is when will he play and it might be more significant than you think, which is saying something for the history that it would mean.

Consider this tweet that astonishingly flew under the radar over the weekend from Yahoo! Shutdown Corner's Eric Edholm.


There won't be any added pressure on the Cowboys to add Sam to the active roster and play him, but there almost should be. Why? To get to the next guy. In order for this not to be news, we need it not to be significant. The first gay player in the NFL is significant and at this point, that player will be Michael Sam.

No other gay player is going to come out before Sam plays because Sam was the one who was brave enough to be the first. He was the one who answered all the questions and had to deal with all the attention (positive and negative) of being the first. Another player isn't going to swoop in and take the accomplishment.

With that in mind, Edholm's tweet is significant. Once Sam breaks the barrier, I fully expect others to come out as well. If you don't think there are gay players currently in the NFL, you're both naive and wrong.

Step one has to come before step two, so for now we wait on step one, and Michael Sam looks like he will take that step with the famed Cowboys star on his helmet.


2-22 Hoffman and Platt

Jeff and I are live Saturdays at 2 pm CT on 103.3 FM in Dallas and online at KESN1033.com. Follow along on twitter @craighoffman and @jeffplatt. We'll also be taking calls at 855-787-1033 and you can text the show at 64636. Type "ESPN" and then your message. Here's what we're doing on Feb. 15th:

2:00 - Mavs discussion
  • The Mavs get LeBron'd, survive a turnover plagued first half to beat Philly and get ready for Detroit
  • Dirk Nowtiski sits down with Bill Simmons - watch here.

2:15 - Cowboys - Keeping up with the Joneses
  • The initial installment of "Keeping up with the Joneses," trying to make sense of the senseless statements made by Stephen and Jerry Jones.
  • Just as senselessly, Jason Garrett tries to explain the Cowboys off-season thus far

2:30 - Richard Durrett live from Surprise
  • It was a bad, injury plagued week to open Spring Training. We get the latest from ESPN.com's Rangers insider.

2:45 - Best of the Six Pack
  • The top "other" stories from the week in sports and entertainment.

3:00 - Amin Elhassan/"Things that make you go hmm"
  • ESPN NBA Insider Amin Elhassan joins us as the "smart basketball guest of the week"
  • The opposite of smart is dumb. We look at some of the things that made us go "hmm" this week.

3:15 - Johnny Manziel/"Talk To Me"
  • We discuss Johnny Manziel's day in front of the microphone at the NFL Combine
  • The most fun we have all day, "Talk to Me" - you call, we answer and that's about it.

3:30 - Mavs at the deadline/"Hoffman’s Guide to college hoops"
  • The Mavs stand pat at the trade deadline. How close were they? Will they add players as contracts around the league are bought out?
  • Your weekly look at college hoops, "Hoffman's Guide to College Hoops" has its eyes on Syracuse/Duke, Kansas/Texas and Marcus Smart's return

3:45 - The NFL Combine - Platt Style/"One Last Thing"
  • If you can bet on something, Jeff knows about it. You can bet on the NFL combine. We'll look at some of the fun you can have.
  • My final take on a topic we saw this week. This week? How to properly use the NFL combine.
We hope you'll join us!