Mac Engel

Cowboys bracing for cold and makeup calls

Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Hitchens’ play against Detroit Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew has been discussed by conspiracy theorists everywhere.
Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Hitchens’ play against Detroit Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew has been discussed by conspiracy theorists everywhere. Star-Telegram

It is not good when native Green Bay residents tell you, “This is cold.”

Equally not good is when your team must go on the road to play a playoff game one week after it purportedly “stole one” thanks to NFL officials.

As much as the Dallas Cowboys should prepare for chilly temperatures at Lambeau Field, they may as well get their mind right with another reality they will be faced with — home cookin’, and the long art of the makeup call. The Cowboys are going to “get got” from the officials at least once Sunday when a play could go either way.

(In case you are wondering, the head referee scheduled to work Sunday’s game is Mr. Gene Steratore. The Cowboys are 1-4 when he works, but … the Packers are 5-6. No, I don’t know the record when this guy works these teams in games under 20 degrees west of the Mississippi River.)

This week, everyone from President Barack Obama to the entire city of Detroit and all points between has lamented a handful of questionable (blown?) calls in the Cowboys’ opening-round playoff win over the Lions last week at Jerry World.

When the NFL issues statements to defend or explain calls, you can guarantee league officials will go out of their way in the next game to dispel any hint of favoritism toward the team that benefited the previous week.

The Packers watched the game, and they saw what the rest of the world saw: The refs blew it on several calls that aided the Cowboys. Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens was not playing the ball and had contact restricting the receiver and thus, by NFL rule, interfered with Lions receiver Brandon Pettigrew on a crucial second-half play.

“The issue I had with the Dallas/Detroit game is not the call. Every call is debatable,” Packers veteran receiver Jordy Nelson told me. “They will make mistakes, and they will try to get it right. The issue is that they announced it, enforced it, and then changed it. That is the stuff you don’t normally see. We have all seen them throw a flag, discuss it, and then pick it up. I don’t think anybody has ever seen them actually announce a penalty, and then whatever happened after that happened.”

The non-pass interference call did not upset New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Another notable instance that caused this much of a nationwide response was the conclusion of the Miami-Ohio State BCS title game on Jan. 3, 2003. That was when a referee took roughly 5 seconds after the game-ending play was over, which would have given Miami the national title, to throw a pass interference flag. OSU ended up winning the title.

Then, ABC color analyst Dan Fouts said after watching the replays during the telecast, “Bad call. Bad call!”

Watching the Cowboys job the Lions on Sunday on a few calls prompted a legion of Cowboys-hating fans to not only scream “Horrible call!” but suggest the fix was in. That the call, or the obvious hold on Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh on the Cowboys’ fourth-down play in the fourth quarter that was ignored, were flagrant attempts by NFL boss Roger Goodell to make sure America’s Team had every chance to advance to another playoff game.

No, Tim Donaghy was not a member of the NFL’s crew Sunday. To orchestrate such an elaborate fixing scheme without news of it leaking remains preposterous. To suggest the refs simply blew it is correct.

Blown calls are part of the game, and they will be Sunday at Lambeau. No amount of instant replay will ever change that.

“That is part of the beauty of the game — the referees and the human error,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told me when I asked him if he is resigned to dealing with blown calls and their consequences. “They are doing the best job that they can. It’s a tough job. More times than not, 99 out of 100, they are making the right calls in the game.”

They are, and when they blow it, they also are like anybody else who has messed up — they want to make it up. They want to make it up right away, or next week. It happens in the NHL, NBA, MLB and it most certainly will happen Sunday in the NFL in Green Bay.

“They are human. It’s a fast game,” Nelson said. “They make mistakes, and they see what they see, and they are going to call what they see.”

A bitter cold awaits the Cowboys for Sunday’s game, as will a few makeup calls that will not go their way. Their best chance is to heed the following advice not from their fearless leader — Jerry Jones — but from Rodgers himself.

“You can’t make any excuses about the referees,” Rodgers said. “The players need to make the difference on the field and not the referees.”

Just get ready — the cold and the makeup calls are coming.

Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at star-telegram.com/sports/.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @macengelprof

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