Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens has finally given his answer.
Should he have been flagged for pass interference on the controversial fourth-quarter play against the Detroit Lions?
“I don’t know,” Hitchens said initially.
After a brief pause, Hitchens then said: “Obviously not. They didn’t call it, so I’m just going by what was the call on the field. They get paid to do their jobs, so that’s that.
“I’m just trying to do my job. I don’t make the calls. Now I’m just trying to get focused on Green Bay here.”
Hitchens has been somewhat caught off guard by the national debate, borderline outrage, that has come from a single play and he spoke Tuesday for the first time publicly since it happened.
To recap: Detroit had a third-and-1 from the Dallas 46, and Matthew Stafford threw a pass to Brandon Pettigrew on the deep left side that hit Hitchens in the back.
The back judge flagged Hitchens for pass interference, a call that was announced by referee Pete Morelli and then marked off to give the Lions a first down. However, the head linesman ruled the contact was minimal and the officials reversed course, waving off the penalty with little explanation.
“I think I did a pretty good job of closing the distance and at least trying to get my head turned around,” Hitchens said. “So, overall, I think my technique was pretty decent. I can fight more to get my head turned around or close the gaps a little closer, just little things. You can always improve.”
Dean Blandino, the NFL’s head of officials, said Monday that Hitchens should have been penalized for defensive holding for grabbing Pettigrew’s jersey before the pass. Replays also showed Pettigrew grabbing Hitchens’ facemask during the play, which Blandino said wasn’t a penalty.
“That’s what it looked like,” Hitchens said of the facemask. “Like I said, I’m not here to talk about it or nothing like that. Right now, I’m a young player in this league, and I’m just trying to turn the tables and get focused on next week.”
Hitchens said he is feeling better as he continues to deal with a high right ankle sprain that kept him out of practice last week. Because of that, the Cowboys hoped to keep Hitchens’ snap count down against the Lions.
But linebacker Rolando McClain missed the second half with an injury, forcing Hitchens to play a total of 33 snaps on the day. And he played well, receiving praise from coach Jason Garrett.
It’s nothing new for Hitchens. The fourth-round pick out of Iowa has exceeded expectations and has been the best linebacker the past nine weeks with a team-leading 79 tackles.
“I haven’t done nothing I’m not expected to do,” Hitchens said. “I just think the coaching staff here and our system fits the type of player I am.”
Defensive tackle Terrell McClain sprained his left ankle early in the Cowboys’ 24-20 victory over Detroit, getting his foot caught in the turf. It didn’t stop him.
He played 20 of 67 snaps, finishing with a tackle.
“I couldn’t stop playing,” McClain said Tuesday. “It’s the playoffs. You’ve got to stay in now.”
McClain said the good news is that it isn’t a high-ankle sprain. He will miss practice time, though.
“Right now we’re just playing it day by day, trying to be smart with it, trying to get me to the game,” McClain said. “I just tweaked it.”
Right tackle Doug Free continues to nurse a left ankle injury that likely could keep him out a fifth consecutive week. Linebacker Rolando McClain left the game with concussion-like symptoms and has a sore neck.
The Cowboys’ run to the NFC divisional playoffs has seen the rise of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the team’s most celebrated, and despised, fan.
Christie has attended four games this season as the guest of owner Jerry Jones, and the Cowboys have won all four. He received even more national attention/criticism when he was caught sharing a group hug with Jones and son Stephen Jones during the Cowboys’ 24-20 wild-card victory against the Lions.
Jones said he wants Christie with the Cowboys in Green Bay on Sunday.
“He’s part of our mojo,” Jones said on his radio show on KRLD/105.3 FM. “I want him there all the way. I’ll tell you, if he’s got enough mojo to pull this thing out, he ought to be looked at as president of the United States. I don’t know how we in any way can even think about going up there without having him with the way we’re playing and the mojo. I know I’m doing everything else the same way I’ve been doing it for several weeks.”
Jones defended Christie from critics, especially those back in New Jersey who believe he is disrespecting the Giants and Eagles fans in his state. He says Christie is a long-time fan who deserves a chance to root for his team when he is not handling the more important matters of running a state.
“You know, when you’re in the shoes of a Gov. Christie, he deals five to 10 issues a day of real human consequences and human drama,” Jones said. “But it’s exciting to see the respite of supporting his team. You know, he’s been a fan for almost 50 years. And his family when, literally, he was not Gov. Christie, they would drive on his vacation to watch one game with his wife. And they wouldn’t even park in the paid parking. They would park so far away they didn’t have to pay and then walk so they could make ends meet to come see the game. Listen, he’s a Cowboys fan through and through.
“I saw the kind of criticism he got when he was with us in New York and then in Philadelphia, and of course that’s closer to his home base. But as you know, he’s a national figure, to be trite about it. But I’ll assure you one thing— we got a lot of Cowboys fans out here that are certainly for anything he can bring to us on a win. As far as his mojo is concerned, we’ve really involved him. It’s great.”
Drew Davison, 817-390-7760