Roughly a year later, the only person that seems to have moved past the catch/non-catch that ruined the Dallas Cowboys’ breakthrough 2014 season is the man himself, receiver Dez Bryant.
While coach Jason Garrett says all the right things publicly, he remains chapped that potentially one of the signature plays in the history of the franchise was overturned, playing a key role in knocking the Cowboys out of the NFC Divisional playoffs with a 26-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
When asked specifically last week whether the Bryant catch was in fact a catch, Garrett was admittedly coy.
“What play are you referring to?” he said with a wry smile.
Garrett is disappointed the NFL has not changed the rule that disqualified Bryant’s catch.
Despite lobbying by Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio at the owners meetings last March to change the rule, the league ultimately decided to tweak the language on the catch rule in the off-season in an attempt to uphold the previous standard.
It has only added more confusion this season — so much so that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has convened a “catch committee” in an effort to find a solution.
“I think it’d be great if they looked at it,” Del Rio said with a laugh when asked about his standing up for the Bryant catch. “I think we would all like it to be a little cleaner.”
Bryant has even volunteered to offer his input to the committee.
And then there are the legions of NFL fans, Cowboys fans and non-Cowboys fans, who have continued to approach Bryant on a daily basis since last January — via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and/or while he is at dinner or traveling to New York or Los Angeles — to let him know that “it was a catch.”
They’ve made shirts, memes and GIFs about it.
Bryant acknowledges that he appreciates the support. He believes in his heart that it was a catch, saying: “I had two hands on it and switch to one, while reaching for the end zone.”
He questions everything about the decision-making process from the referees, including the notion that ball touched the ground.
But he has moved on and will not head into Sunday’s crucial matchup against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, the scene of the crime roughly 11 months earlier, with the catch on his mind.
“I’ve got that catch behind me,” Bryant said. “There’s nothing I can do. Why dwell on it? You can’t dwell on something that you can’t change. It is what it is.”
The problem remains that no one knows what it is — “it” being a catch.
The league’s off-season tweaks in the language only muddled the situation further.
More important, it doesn’t allow the common-sense factor of defining a catch based on simple visual evidence.
“I think we have to continue to make an effort as a league to clarify what a catch is, and how we write the rules and how we interpret the rules and how we explain the rules based on what happens week in and week out in the NFL,” Garrett said. “It’s not an easy thing.”
Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was with Detroit when the catch question initially arose with receiver Calvin Johnson.
The Calvin Johnson Rule has evolved into the Dez Bryant Rule.
“When you put it in slow motion, I think it defines it even more,” said Linehan. “I’ve been through the agony of the Calvin Johnson play and the Dez Bryant play and it’s just hard to say that those great plays that were made weren’t great plays.”
Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones, a member of league’s competition committee, which handles rule changes, supports the new focus on the catch rule, even if the changes happen a year too late for Dallas.
“I think it should be at catch. I think the Megatron catch should be a catch. There are going to be some tricky ones,” Jones said. “You’ve got to move forward. You’ve got to make the game better. You’ve got to make improvement.”
For now, confusion still reigns.
The Cowboys are coaching their players to be more conservative and not leave things to chance or, as Garrett says, “in the hands of the officials.”
Linehan said: “You can’t reach for the goal line. You can’t jump up and be happy and have the ball slip out of your hand. You’ve got to really be ultra, like, aware of that.”
That doesn’t wash with Bryant.
He said he is not going to change how he plays and he can’t think about those things on the field. Bryant agonized so much over the play and the situation (season ended) that it took him more than a month to get over it. He said he didn’t leave his house and slept on the couch in the same position for two weeks.
A victory against the Packers would have put Dallas in the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 1995 with a rematch in Seattle against the Seahawks, a team they defeated earlier in the season at the same place.
“It’s as tough as it’s ever been,” tight end Jason Witten said. “In that situation, that type of game, it stuck with me for a long time.”
Bryant’s anguish grew more after the loss at Green Bay. He missed the entire off-season in a contract dispute and almost all of training camp with a hamstring injury.
He suffered a fractured foot in the season opener, causing him to miss the next five games, only to sprain his knee and ankle in his second game back, limiting his effectiveness for the next three games.
Instead of reaping the rewards of a $70 million contract extension in the off-season and the Cowboys building on last season’s 12-4 finish with a Super Bowl run for the first time in 20 years, Bryant has been in and out of the lineup. The Cowboys have endured a seven-game losing streak, the longest since they went 1-15 in 1989, and are currently 4-8.
Bryant has not always handled his frustrations well this season, but he has continued to play.
“I could’ve easily shut it down, but that’s not me, man,” Bryant said. “I want to be on the field. I want to play football. This is what I love.
“I don’t care what nobody thinks. I don’t care what nobody says. I just want to win. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”
Bryant is healthy again. In Monday’s 19-16 victory at Washington, he had three catches for 62 yards in the second half, including two for 20 on the game-winning drive.
As a result, the Cowboys are in the thick of the NFC East playoff chase, just one game behind the Redskins, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, who are all 5-7, with four games to go.
The Cowboys were in a similar spot, albeit with a much better record, last season when they reeled off four consecutive wins to end the season and claim the division title.
“I like the position we are in,” Bryant said. “ I’m not promising anything, but I like where we are at.”
Did you catch that?