The NFL blew it by enforcing a stupid rule, but the Dallas Cowboys blew the game.
The Cowboys’ playoff loss against the Green Bay Packers will be viewed as decided by one play, and the Dez Bryant “catch” was a biggie, but don’t bite on that.
The Cowboys had this game in a myriad of ways, and they should be blaming themselves before they pin it on the referees and a dumb NFL rule.
No, none of us ever thought back in August that it would be possible for this team to be playing in the NFC divisional round, but that does not make the end any easier. It doesn’t make the end any easier because of the circumstances handed to them before the game and the number of self-inflicted errors committed during it.
The Packers may be the better team as evidenced by the 26-21 final score, but it does not mean that the Cowboys did not have a big hand in handing them a trip to Seattle for the NFC title game.
Even though most of the Cowboys players were in the locker room privately expressing dismay at the controversial call, on the record and in front of the cameras they would say that is not why their season is over.
“This was a game we had,” Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr said, when I asked him if he thought this was a game they should have won. “You should never let the refs get involved in the game.”
Of course not ... not unless it benefits you, such as it did in the Cowboys’ playoff win against the Detroit Lions, but I digress.
“It should never have been that close, so to speak,” Carr said before looking at the ground and pausing in a moment of disbelief with a: “Damn.”
Start with this: The sequel to the Ice Bowl was played in heavenly conditions for Green Bay at this time of year. The locals all were thrilled at the prospect of being able to sit at Lambeau Field in the comfy 23-degree, mostly windless conditions handed the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon.
Then go to an All-Pro quarterback who was playing on one leg. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was so visibly limited by his injured left calf that he often had to hobble and limp between plays.
Had the Cowboys had any real pass rush, the Packers’ offense would not have been as effective as it was. Rodgers was often able to stand for many seconds before he threw the ball.
“He definitely wasn’t as mobile as he normally is,” veteran defensive end Anthony Spencer said. “We couldn’t get him off the spot.”
The Cowboys had just one sack, but they should have had four or five.
Then go to the game itself, and it is not hard to find a number of opportunities that would have turned this game long before the refs enforced my eagerly anticipated makeup call from the Cowboys’ first-round playoff win against the Lions.
“That whole series right before the [end of the first] half was damning,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.
Amen, Coach. Money-kicker Dan Bailey missed a pair of field goals with less than 40 seconds remaining; the first miss was negated because of a Cowboys’ penalty. The Packers turned the short field into a field goal of their own, and the Cowboys led by four points at the half rather than 17-10.
In the third quarter, running back DeMarco Murray’s early-season nemesis — holding on to the ball — got him again when he fumbled. The Packers turned that into another field goal.
“He was washed out and he came back in and just a good play by him,” Murray said of Packers defender Julius Peppers.
No argument. Conversely, when the Cowboys needed a good play of their own to make that type of a difference, they didn’t.
They had a chance to actually force Rodgers into his first interception at home this season, but they blew it. In the second half, Rodgers was forced to his right and fired a ball that safety J.J. Wilcox nearly intercepted. Nearly.
“I thought I had a shot, but he shot it in there before I could [intercept the pass],” Wilcox said.
Even after the controversial “The Catch?” the Cowboys had the Packers in third-down situations in the final two minutes. Both times, Rodgers completed passes to extend the drive. The Cowboys’ offense never saw the ball again after the Dez play at the goal line.
The biggest play Sunday didn’t go the Cowboys’ way, when a strong case can be made it should have. It went a long way in determining the outcome, but don’t eat all of that cheese.
The refs may have blown it by enforcing a dumb NFL rule that should be changed, but the Cowboys blew this game.
Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at star-telegram.com/sports/.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7697