To get ready for training camp, we'll be taking a look at some of the most heartbreaking plays and head-scratching decisions in Dallas Cowboys history and seeing how things could have been different.
No doubt one of the most controversial plays of the decade was Tony Romo's fourth-and-2 pass to receiver Dez Bryant ruled incomplete in the 2014 NFC Divisional playoffs against the Green Bay Packers. Cowboys fans have used the play as another exhibit stating the league has it out for America's Team. Bystanders have used it as a means to criticize "referee-play," the over reliance on reviews, in the NFL.
Nevertheless, the question will always haunt Millennial Cowboys fans: what if Dez caught it? Well, later the NFL competition committee ruled Bryant indeed caught the ball. So, perhaps the better question is: what if NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino and referee Gene Steratore ruled that Bryant caught it?
The Cowboys would have had first-and-10 at the 1-yard line. Dallas scored the eighth-most touchdowns inside the 10-yard line in 2014. It isn't unreasonable to think running back DeMarco Murray would have atoned for his fumble earlier in the game there to give Dallas a 27-26 lead with a little over 4:00 left in the game.
The Cowboys would have been forced to try for two rather than kick the PAT, as an extra point would have given the Packers a chance to win with a field goal. Dallas did not try for two at all in 2014, but the Packers were 2-of-3 defending two-pointers that season. The Cowboys were 1-of-4 on two-point tries with Romo, Murray, Bryant, and tight end Jason Witten, on the field since their 2011 formation. More than likely, the Cowboys fail to convert and the score remains 27-26.
Aaron Rodgers had driven the Packers into Cowboys territory for points on three of their four total second half drives, including touchdowns on their past two drives. On the final drive to ice the game and send Green Bay to Seattle for the next week's conference title game, Rodgers was 2-of-2 on third down. The Cowboys sacked Rodgers only once in the game despite the 2014 MVP hobbling on one leg due a calf injury.
Statistics suggest Rodgers would have driven into kicker Mason Crosby's range to attempt a game-winning field goal, and the 2007 sixth-rounder out of Georgetown, Texas, had a 13-for-20 conversion rate on field goals of 40 yards or more in December and January at Lambeau Field from 2007-2014.
Bottom line: Rodgers leads the Packers to a last-second victory over the Cowboys, just as he did in the 2016 NFC Divisional playoffs. The only thing that vanishes is the controversy of Blandino overturning Bryant's catch from replay command in New York.
How it would have been different
1. The NFL wouldn't have gone on a three-year odyssey of not knowing what was and wasn't a catch. It would be pretty clear because they wouldn't be trying to cover for a bad decision in a playoff game involving two high profile teams. The only alienated fan bases would be the Detroit Lions from Week 1 of 2010 when a similar incomplete pass was ruled for a Calvin Johnson touchdown (Steratore was also the ref in that game).
2. Cowboys fans wouldn't have a feeling of being robbed. There's always an incomplete feeling about the 2014 divisional playoffs because it feels like the results were tainted with, like when a patient in the control group for a new drug is actually taking something on the side. There may be more of a focus on Murray's fumble early in the third quarter and the lack of pass rush rather than "the refs jobbed us."
How it would have stayed the same
1. The band would have still broken up between Romo, Murray, Bryant, and Witten. A combination of factors from Bryant's inability to get an extension worked out during the preseason to Murray carrying a career-threatening 392 times during the regular season would have factored in the front office's calculus.
In addition, Murray hadn't played a full season to that point, would be 27 years old, and it was a contract year. Perhaps they would have kept Murray at the right price, but the former 2011 third-round pick from Oklahoma knew it was his chance to cash in.
2. The Cowboys were still beefing up the pass rush by any means necessary. Even though the no-catch call played a huge factor into the outcome of the game, from a technical standpoint, the inability to pressure a one-legged Rodgers was embarrassing. Enter Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory with Rolando McClain in tow, and suspensions galore.
Do you believe the Cowboys would have reached the Super Bowl if Dez’s play had been ruled a catch? Share your thoughts with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.
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