An hour after the game, Dez Bryant still didn’t understand. How could a replay possibly have overturned his fourth-down catch to the Green Bay 1-yard line?
“I can’t believe it,” Bryant said. “That’s all I can say. I can’t believe it. I’ve never seen nothing like that in my life. I really hope there’s no, ‘We made a bad call.’ I don’t want to hear none of that. Just let it be, whatever it is.”
Reporters told Bryant the explanations from referee Gene Steratore after the game and Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating, on Twitter.
The rule in question states: “If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete.”
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Steratore served as the referee for the Lions-Bears season opener in 2010 that earned the rule the nickname, “The Calvin Johnson Rule.”
Bryant knew the play in question, when Johnson thought he made a 28-yard, game-winning touchdown catch only to have officials rule it as incomplete and then uphold it on a replay.
“Please, please take that rule out,” Bryant begged.
At the same time, Bryant argued that he had already taken “three steps” and was lunging for the goal line when the ball touched the ground.
“Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah … it wasn’t like [Johnson’s play],” Bryant said. “I’m reaching for the touchdown, trying to score, trying to break the plane.”
The Cowboys agonized over the call as much as Bryant. Even Stephen Jones, a member of the league’s competition committee, called it open to interpretation.
“Catch it, tuck it and reach,” Jones said. “They obviously will say probably he was going to the ground. He also took two or three steps and started to make the move. It’s a debatable deal. It’s tough.”
For one of the few times all day, Bryant found himself in single coverage. It was fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 42 with 4:42 left when Tony Romo looked up to see Sam Shields on Bryant running down the field.
Bryant outjumped Shields for the ball, and officials initially ruled it a 41-yard catch to the 1-yard line. The Cowboys didn’t hustle to try to get a play off, because they had no reason to believe there was anything for the Packers to challenge.
“We didn’t make that decision at that particular time, because we’re going to get in goal line and get the big people on the field,” Romo said. “Obviously in retrospect. ...”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he was “doodling” and wondering “what the fuss is all about here” when Packers coach Mike McCarthy threw his red challenge flag. Steratore, in conversation with Blandino, reversed the decision, giving the ball back to the Packers, who ran out the clock.
“Whenever they go to replay, you always hope for the best, and obviously it didn’t turn out that way,” Romo said. “… The calls don’t go your way sometimes, and that is part of the game.”
Bryant wasn’t buying it.
“I just can’t believe it,” Bryant said again and again. “That’s all I can say. I can’t believe it.”