By Dwain Price
ARLINGTON — A very sloppy performance on the Dallas Cowboys’ part was the backdrop on a wild and crazy day that prematurely ended their season as they dropped a wild card playoff game to the San Francisco 49ers, 23-17, on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium..
But the season for the Cowboys didn’t go up in flames without controversy.
The Cowboys had the ball at the Niners’ 41-yard line with 14 seconds remaining and no timeouts. However, instead of trying one of those Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson Hail Mary passes similar to the one that beat the Minnesota Vikings in a 1975 playoff game, quarterback Dak Prescott inexplicably ran 17 yards on a quarterback draw to the San Francisco 24.
With no ability to stop the clock, the Cowboys rushed to the line of scrimmage, but couldn’t get the play off in time before the game clock expired. More importantly, they couldn’t get the ball to umpire Ramon George – he must officially spot the ball – before time ran out.
Afterwards, coach Mike McCarthy defended his decision to bypass a Hail Mary pass for the play that abruptly ended the Cowboys’ season.
“You want to be running the Hail Mary play from the 50-yard line or you want to be running five verticals from the 25-yard line?,” McCarthy rhetorically asked. “So that’s the decision — it’s the right decision.
“The execution between us and the officiating spotting the ball obviously wasn’t in-tune. We shouldn’t have had any problems getting the ball spotted there.”
That play was a heartbreaker for a Cowboys’ team who thought they had all the tools that it takes to punch their ticket to this year’s Super Bowl. Instead, the Cowboys were denied. Again.
“We were trying to get some more yards so that we could clock (the ball) and then take a shot to the end zone,” wide receiver Amari Cooper said. “It’s just that, from what I could see, (George) couldn’t really keep up.
“So we couldn’t get that last play off. We practice those situations all the time and we thought that we had time. Like I said, from my vantage point, it seemed that (George) was too slow.”
Interviewed by a pool reporter after the game, referee Alex Kemp said George “spotted the ball properly” and was “absolutely” in a reasonable length of space from where the play was. Kemp also said he and the rest of the officiating crew discussed the controversial play before ending the game, and never heard from the in-house replay team.
And on George colliding with Prescott and center Tyler Biadasz — causing precious seconds to tick away — before spotting the ball, Kemp said the collision didn’t precipitate a change in anyone’s mind that the game should have been extended at least one more play.
“The umpire was simply spotting the ball properly,” Kemp said. “He collided with (Prescott and Biadasz) as he was setting the ball because he was moving it to the proper spot.”
The Cowboys were obviously livid!
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“That’s something that we practice and, as I said, I felt like we pretty much executed the way we needed to other than the stuff we can’t control,” Prescott said. “I take a lot of pride in my job and I take accountability in this loss.
“I’ve got to be better well before that last play. But in just certain situations in the game, certain plays in the game, I’ve got to be better to help this team win and overcome some of the things that we put ourselves into.”
The final play underscored the fact that the Cowboys were clearly outplayed for the better part of three quarters, and couldn’t stop the Niners’ run game as SF finished with 169 yards rushing on 38 carries.The unfortunate ending climaxed a very sloppy day by the Cowboys, who committed a whopping 14 penalties with many of them crippling their scoring drives or extending drives for the 49ers.
The 14 penalties tied the Cowboys’ franchise record for penalties in a postseason game.
“I don’t think you can explain it,” said running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for only 31 yards on 12 carries. “I think you just have to find a way to go play more disciplined football.”
On the sudden end to the season, Elliott said: “It hurts. All of us are hurting. I’m so proud of this team. It’s such a strong brotherhood.
“It’s such a family. We just have to rally around each other.”
Down 23-7 after Deebo Samuel darted 26 yards for a touchdown with 5:50 left in the third quarter, the Cowboys got a 51-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein to inch within 23-10 of San Francisco with 11:53 remaining in the game. Then a little over two minutes later, Anthony Brown intercepted a Jimmy Garoppolo pass and ran it back 23 yards to the SF 28.
That directly led to a 5-yard TD scamper by Prescott that energized the Cowboys and had them only trailing, 23-17, with 8:02 left in the game. Then came a crucial holding penalty by defensive tackle Neville Gallimore on third down that would have given the Cowboys the ball back with about four minutes left in the game.
A short time after that was the memorable last play of the game which Cowboys fans will never forget.
“This is extremely, extremely disappointing, and surprising that we didn’t win this first playoff game for me and for our fans,” owner Jerry Jones said. “They really deserved to see this team advance on into the playoffs.”
When asked if he’s surprised that the season is over, rookie linebacker Micah Parsons said: “Yeah, I am surprised, but every week I’m learning this is the NFL.
“You never know what can happen, you never know who’s going to show up. You never know what adversities you can face, and (Sunday) we faced a lot of adversity and we just couldn’t overcome it.”
Elijah Mitchell raced four yards and Robbie Gould booted field goals covering 53 and 40 yards as the 49ers took a 13-0 lead with 9:40 remaining before halftime. Prescott, who completed just 23-of-43 passes for 254 yards, found Cooper for a 20-yard scoring strike to get the Cowboys within 13-7 of SF with 5:19 left in the first half.
Gould, however, booted a 52-yard field goal a little over two minutes later and the Niners took a 16-7lead at the half. Later on, K’Waun Williams intercepted a Prescott pass which led to the TD by Samuel that gave the Niners that 23-7 lead.
As for what he told his players after the game, McCarthy said: “It was abrupt, such an abrupt finish. We clearly felt this was the challenge that we needed to, that we were going to be able to move on from here. I just shared my personal feelings to them.”
Some of the fans shared their personal feelings as they tossed debris onto the field, prompting defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence to say: “That (stuff) was aimed at the refs. That wasn’t aimed at me. It’s got nothing to do with me.
“I went out there. I played my (rear end) off. I played my heart out. We didn’t come out with the results that we wanted. It is what it is.”
And what it won’t be for the Cowboys is a trip to this year’s Super Bowl.
“It’s tough,” Parsons said. “For myself, I’m emotional because I grew a bond with these guys.
“It’s real emotional now. I think nobody wanted this outcome and everybody really played to win. We just got to clean things up for next year.”