That was a gut wrenching loss. For so many reasons, but it really hurt having what looked like a win snatched away. In westerns, the guys stealing money wear black, and the Marshall or Sheriff getting it back wears a badge in the shape of a star. Yesterday, the men wearing the star joined forces with the men in black to snatch this away from me. From you. From our families. Think of the children. THE CHILDREN!!!
If you’d told me in September (or even October, let’s be real) that the Cowboys win 12 games, I’m cracking up. You follow that up with making the divisional round (without a bye week, Wade) playing against Green Bay, I’m in shock. I would tell you that I’m happy we’re still playing, not ready for Green Bay level of play, but happy to be there. Now that it’s come to pass, I’m sad.
The (almost, not quite, maybe, probably, if you ask 100 people…, should have been, right call bad rule, amazing) catch. I stumbled out of my chair at Three Stacks when it happened, in what I thought was shock. But then I quickly realized that I wasn’t shocked, just amazed. It’s not uncommon for Jason Garrett to go big on 4th and 1. I don’t know where to do the research, so I can’t look at every call he’s made when going for it, but one memory when thinking about going for it with Jason comes to mind is in Tony Romo’s early days. It was late in the game, but not under two minutes, and likely not even the final Cowboys possession if they had punted. But on 4th and 1, instead of running, the call was Tony to throw it deep for the touchdown. I can’t remember who the throw was to, but I remember the play. I don’t remember the opponent, and a Google search just turns up articles about yesterday’s game (not helpful, Google). But, it’s not uncommon for Jason Garrett to decide we’re going for the big play when only a yard is needed, and there’s no do over. Yesterday, I don’t think it was strictly a pass to Dez Bryant that was called. In interviews later, they mentioned that they went there because 88 finally had single coverage on the outside. I would imagine it was either a packaged play, or a sight adjustment by Tony and Dez. Either way, it wasn’t surprising that Jason Garrett would allow it to happen. It was also a good call. Anyone who disagrees with the playcall should also disagree with the other decisions that Garrett made last week. Throwing to Dez one-on-one doesn’t have much less of a success rate (if any) than running Demarco Murray into the mammoths on the Lions defensive line. I liked the call when the ball was in the air, loved it when 88 came down with the ball, and loved it after the reversal.
I can’t decide what I think about the ruling. I’m not emotionally prepared to rewatch the play multiple times to glean micro-level information, so I can’t get as detailed as I’d like. I got my minor in History, which means nothing except that my mind needs to figure out how and why something happened in order for it to be accepted. I have to analyze it. From what I can tell, it all comes down to the officials’ interpretation of Dez’s body movements and actions. They interpret him as jumping up to make the catch, and falling sideways, forward, and lunging while descending to the ground. A perfectly logical interpretation, when you hear it, I think. But, the three times I’ve seen it from the end zone angle, it seems pretty obvious to me that he’s catching it using his momentum to take three steps and then lunging for the end zone. That’s a “football move common to the game.” Had they interpreted it differently, that he wasn’t going to the ground through the whole process, the referee comes out from the hood and not only upholds the catch but awards Dallas six points. I like the law, and don’t mind miniscule rules in the game—although more things should be challengeable, to ensure that the small things are adjudicated correctly. But I don’t think that a catch should be analyzed like this. At least, not this inconsistently. The ground can cause an incomplete pass, but not a fumble. Where’s the logic there? Who’s to say that he wasn’t trying to lunge for the goal line? We see people do that all the time. That’s the only decision needed. And because it wasn’t obvious what he was doing, everyone should revert back to what was called on the field—in front of an extremely well placed official on the sideline. There should have been doubt, and it be a situation of “I can’t say for sure what he was doing there, athletic moves with the ball or falling, so we’ll just go with what was called on the field.” We see those all the time, where the commentators/officiating consultants say that the review might go a different way if it hadn’t been called a catch on the field, or ruled a fumble on the field, what have you. It sounds like a homer thing to say, but I really think that Dez made such an athletic move that people who haven’t watched him every week (and even some people who have) couldn’t believe a mortal is able to do that. He was too athletic for his own good. You shouldn’t get penalized for being a generational talent. But wait, the two best receivers in the game have both been penalized for that, hmmm…
I think it should be similar to the ball breaking the plane of the end zone. When that happens, the play is over, and nothing happening after that matters. Ruling on the field was a fumble, but because 1/16th of an inch was across the plane of the end zone, a touchdown had already been scored. We’re used to that, and we accept that. I think it’s correct. I believe that a catch should be awarded as soon as you have possession of the football and two feet down. If you accomplish those two things, but then go to the ground, haven’t been tagged by an opposing player, and lose the football, you’re a ball carrier who just fumbled. The direction that your body is moving while working to get two feet in while holding the ball shouldn’t matter. We shouldn’t need a physicist in New York working to determine if the drag coefficient of Bryant’s uniform contributed to his center of gravity shifting to a downward trajectory at a rate of 2mass * drag(x+Ө). If you can hold onto the ball while getting both feet down and in bounds, you’re good. At the instant that happens, you’re a runningback.
I don’t think this just because it hurt Dez, and the Cowboys. It’s so difficult to adjudicate. There’s a vine going around of Moncrief scoring a touchdown against the Bengals last week. He scores in the corner of the endzone and leaves the ball on the ground to celebrate. That wasn’t taken away from him or analyzed, because no one doubted he caught it. It’s unnecessarily complicating things. I’m pro-official or referee, I want more things to be reviewable so that the right call can be made. Everyone understands that they’re making calls in real time, it’s impossible to be right. Get as close as you can, and if someone vehemently disagrees, they’ll throw this red hankie onto the pitch and it gets corrected. The ref is happy because his name isn’t being mentioned all over the media, and the teams are happy because the right thing happens.
The mantra being repeated on ESPN and other media outlets is “right call, bad rule”. I agree, it’s not a good rule, but I disagree that the call was right. It takes an act of judgment for the reviewer to decide to invoke an additional set of catch-determining rules in addition to the ones usually used. That shouldn’t be. To me, the tragedy is less that the rule hurt my team, but that someone somewhere decided that more rules or additional rules should be used. Bryant didn’t jump straight up and then fall down. That would be an obvious instance to invoke the “complete the process” rules. But a freak of nature moving on both the x and y axes simultaneously doesn’t make it completely obvious to bring that paragraph into play.
So it’s a bad rule, but I don’t think it was even the right application of the rule. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t have a strong enough stomach to watch it enough times to be sure. I can only rely on football people that I follow, with no Dallas affiliation or preference, and all of them have said that after watching it a ton, it’s a catch.
I think this gets rid of the rule, going forward. The other infamous instance of the rule is Calvin Johnson, but that was in a week 1 game. This is different. The most valuable franchise in this hemisphere feels screwed over, and they have a seat on the competition committee. I’ll be stunned if this isn’t changed in March.
What hurts the most though, is how Dez must feel. I’m sick about it, and I’m just watching on TV. He’s the athlete that has trained for this moment, and moments greater than this, and did what God gave him the ability to do: run fast, jump high, and use his hands to make great catches. He’s spent the whole season proving that he deserves a huge contract. I think he’s done more than enough, but this definitely would have sealed it. Jay Z has a much easier negotiation after a catch like that in a moment that large. 88 has to live with that lost opportunity. “Maybe if I just get two feet down and then go out of bounds?” “What if I’d not switched hands?” What if. What if. What if. There’s nothing I could have done differently (except for not knocking over a tall stool), so I’m just sad. Dez has to be sad, and full of regret. I hurt for him.
But, that isn’t the reason that we lost. We have more of a case for griping about that than Lions fans did last week though. Ours was on fourth down, their coach was to chicken to even go for it on fourth and 1 (versus Garrett’s call on fourth and 2). So, they still had a chance to win after getting hosed (if they did). We had no chances. People will say, “Well, they had a chance, just couldn’t stop Aaron Rodgers.” Yeah, no crap. Do you think Garrett goes for a touchdown there if we’re facing Geno Smith? He knew our defense had done everything it could, and it was up to the offense to finish this. We should have gotten 26 or so seconds back on the clock after the Dez Debacle, which would have made Green Bay make more plays before just running out the clock. I can’t say that it was likely we get a turnover or even force a punt, but our defense has done crazy things this year, so I would have liked to see them get every possible chance. Also, Romo got hit late multiple times, and low. It was hard to hear commentary to know what Troy Aikman and Joe Buck thought about the hits/no calls because both occurred on plays that were positive for Dallas so there was screaming in the bar. But, while reading Twitter during the Denver game, I saw multiple NFL people (not Dallas people) comment on a roughing the passer call for either Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning by saying “Romo could have used one of those calls earlier today,” “If Tony Romo was more elite, he would get roughing the passer calls #sarcasm”, so I feel like they were missed calls. Were they make up calls for last week, like I fretted to Chace might happen? I don’t know. I don’t think make up calls exist game to game, but I think that officials heard all the criticism this week and all the Dallas Cowboys/Illuminati crap, and it would be understandable to subconsciously decide you’re only calling things in favor of them if it’s obvious. You don’t want to be lumped in as fixing a game, so you give the pass rusher an extra second’s worth of benefit of the doubt. I also haven’t watched the Randall Cobb catch that might have skipped into his hands off the turf, or maybe his glove, but again the NFL people I follow on Twitter have been using that as an example of the inconsistency of “catch” rulings this week.
And, worse, off the field things aren’t the reason we lost today. We could have won, maybe should have won, but I think it’s tough to argue that we should have won against the best quarterback in the league—even when hobbled. Romo played a hell of a game. I don’t like passer rating as a measure, but when compared to other people’s passer ratings, it’s not the worst. Romo had a passer rating of 143.6 which is really good. A few notes from Twitter (@thejordanross), Romo was the first quarterback with a 140.0+ rating and 78.0 completion percentage in a road playoff game. And that was at Lambeau Field. Also, Romo has the distinction of being the first quarterback to post a 125.0+ passer rating in a playoff game and lose. The other games with a quarterback posting 125.0 or higher, were 68-0. He was getting beat up in addition to his existing injuries, and still played out of his mind. Give this man a defense, and I like our chances.
I don’t like to go through and take something in a game and say that if that is different, the game ends differently—time travel movies have taught us nothing if not that changing one action changes every action afterwards—but the Murray fumble is huge. Jimmy Johnson gives him a Greyhound ticket home after yesterday’s game. When looking at the replay, you can see that they’re in a single-high safety look, and once Demarco is through the hole it’s either a 35 yard gain or touchdown. Now, if that run isn’t a touchdown, there’s no way to know that we get points—even Dan Bailey wasn’t so hot Sunday—but, we can definitively say that the Packers don’t get those points. That’s tough to handle. In a game where points were going to be scarce, a chance to put our feet on the throat of a superior opponent and force them to become one dimensional would have been monumental. He hadn’t fumbled since week 8, but he had such a habit of it before week 9, that we knew it was a matter of time before it happened again. So rarely do players solve that problem, they just make it better. The only upside, we won’t have to hear radio callers and people on the street saying that Murray should be back.
In all, we played a good game. Not a great game, but we’re not a great team. We know that. Dallas overachieved, and gave fans an amazing ride. Games this late in the playoffs are supposed to be close, and one mistake or advantage can mean tipping the scales your way. So there aren’t many things to poke at and say could have turned the tide, but the Dez play and Murray fumble are appropriate laments.
Today is also sad because I had to come to the realization that that was Marinelli’s last game with the Cowboys. I love him. He’s always been able to get more than 100% from his players. It’s like having a ring made by the dwarves that elevates your player rating by 10 points. If you’re an All Pro, he’ll make you play at an all time high level. If you’re an undrafted guy, he’ll make you play your way into the rotation on game days. He’s a combination of scheme and coaching. His scheme isn’t that complicated (maybe because of the talent we’ve given him, I haven’t watched even one snap of his defenses in Chicago), his value is making his scheme make perfect sense to the players so they can play as fast as they can. No thinking. I can’t remember having defensive guys out of position this year, even in the secondary. I’m sure it happened, but taking a 2013 storyline and completely quashing it in one offseason is commendable. Jerry Jones making a recruiting/sales pitch can never be counted out, but this will be his toughest sale in a while. I think he has a chance though. My optimum pitch would be:
“Here’s a check, Rod. You’ll notice that the ‘amount’ section is blank. Just fill that in at your leisure. Here’s a page of paper. You’ll undoubtedly notice that it’s blank except for the title—‘First Round’. I bet coaching this defense was a pain in the ass when your highest drafted player was Mo Claiborne. Huh? You remember him, he played cornerback for a few games. No? Number 24… Still no? I mean, he’s always on the second training table on your right as you walk—yeah! That guy. Sorry about that, we screwed you there. But, how would you like to fill in the name on this sheet? You pick the guy. I know Tampa Bay has Gerald McCoy, but who do they have after him? You have guys that you’ve molded and have playing out of their minds. How about you run the draft, and inject some real talent in there and see what this unit can do? Also, remember the blank check I just gave you.”
Ultimately, I think he does go. He loves Lovie like a son, and only came to Dallas because Lovie was taking a year off and there was nowhere for Rod to follow him. I’ll be sad, but then I’ll go to Vegas and put my money on “Gerald McCoy to be in Hall of Fame.” Marinelli might be best defensive coach we’ve had here in years. Wade was good, but had talent. I think that if you factor in two full seasons at 4-3 and the desert of talent he did this with, he’s a genius.
When he does go, it will be Matt Eberflus. He’s highly respected as far as I can tell (although, it’s only Cowboys guys that are talking about him, so grain of salt there), and I like the principle. When you become a coordinator for the first time, I want to look at your last position group. How good were they? Are you a product of their talent, or did you succeed in spite of talent, or did you suck because they sucked? Eberflus has been the linebackers coach since the 2011 season. He can’t be blamed for Sean Lee’s health, but I would say that our linebackers are the strength of our defense. They play smart, and are usually well prepared. He’s had a full year under Marinelli to learn, and a year before that under Kiffin to learn (what not to do), so I think he will put a good scheme together. The closer he keeps it to what it was, the better—guys that don’t have to think play faster. And, we can’t forget, basically a foregone conclusion that it’s a big fat defensive guy we draft in the first round. I want a big SEC guy that can barely read and has been getting his grades faked since fourth grade just so he can play football. Make the playsheets color coded with pictures, and tell him to go hit that guy over there as hard as he can. Drafting 27th hurts our options of defensive guys to select, and I don’t want to go defense just for the sake of going defense, but I think if we make defense our focus, we’ll find some guys. I was ecstatic about the Anthony Hitchens (3rd or 5th, can’t remember) and Demarcus Lawrence (2nd, and traded up to get) picks last year, and those guys are turning out okay. Keeping Will McClay is crucial to our success going forward.
Scott Linehan is a different story. I know he’ll be in demand, but I’m not sure how high. I haven’t been on Twitter in the past few hours, so his name may have popped up with opportunities, but before Sunday it had only been the Raiders coming round, and they’d been rebuffed. Pay him what he wants, I think Jason Garrett’s comfort with him is crucial to allowing Garrett to not worry about the offensive gameplan as much, and enable him to focus on the other areas of a football team. Unless JG has another guy in mind, I worry that Linehan leaving has effects in every phase of the game because of Garrett reverting back to a micromanager.
Who we keep on the roster in addition to the coaches that stay is going to be very interesting. My heart already hurts, and I’m not going to put my brain in the same boat by looking at the cap yet. The principle guys with expiring contracts if I can remember are: Rolando McClain, Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, and DeMarco Murray. Brandon Carr might need to restructure if he wants to stay (I would think any restructure is more than he’d make on open market after we cut him), but not getting into hypotheticals. Henry Melton has a team option, but all reports say they’re not picking that up.
Rolando is going to be a tough one to keep, I think. It might help us that he’s fallen off the last few weeks of the season and didn’t play two full quarters in the playoffs, and temper the market for him, but he’s going to get calls. I would really like to sign him for three years, but I’m not sure if he’d take a deal that was team friendly. Having him would be huge for our positional and scheme flexibility—start at Mike, with Lee at Will, and then flex the two of them around based on injuries. If we don’t keep him, then Carter and Durant are more important.
Bruce Carter has come into his own this season. I worry about such a dramatic increase because of it being a contract year, but you can’t deny what he’s been consistently able to do. Yesterday, he was inches from deflecting another pass that would have changed the game. I think he got down on himself last year, had some trouble brain-wise figuring out the new scheme, and it compounded into the Dumpster fire wearing a 54 jersey. I want him back, but still a team friendly deal. He will also be getting some calls, but I’d reach a bit to keep him.
Justin Durant getting injured helps us, I think. He’s supposedly our most athletic and talented linebacker (I couldn’t tell if those quotes included Lee, or just linebackers who were on the team), so I’d like to keep him. We got him as a free agent for 2 years/2.4MM two years ago, so I think a small increase over that will do the trick. He was great in spots for us, but I don’t think he’s a name at the top of many team’s boards. Maybe that’s wishful thinking.
Dez needs a new contract. I’m on the record that it needs to be a Kaepernick/Dalton style cap friendly deal. That would still give Dez the recognition and money he deserves, but keep the team insured against his talents regressing or something catastrophic. Pay the man. Pay him twice for all the times he’s made me cheer this season.
Cole Beasley needs to get paid. Because he’s the Wes Welker type (read: White), and didn’t score as many touchdowns as Laurent Robinson, I think there’s a chance we don’t have to compete with a team. And, Beasley is a restricted free agent, so we can put a second round tender on him, and get a second round pick if we lose him. I think we keep him because he knows what he has in Tony, he’s from Little Elm and SMU, and even in a run centric offense is going to get chances.
Murray is gone. Dallas would like to keep him, I’m sure, but teams are going to offer him money. And he should take it. Dallas should only sign him to an extremely team friendly deal. The kind of deal a player takes only when there’s literally no other option. That won’t be the case with Murray (the Raiders are always looking for an oft-injured runningback), he’ll have options. He was close to setting the all time record for carries in a season, and blasted through the 300 carry threshold. It’s an old article, but go to the bottom and there’s a table showing every runningback who carried the ball over 300 times (carries, not touches), and what happened the next year. It was rare to be even close to what you were before, and Murray struggled with injuries before this. Murray carried the ball 392 times in the regular season, and 436 times total (2014 accounted for 47% of his career carries). Personally, I believe that the front office determined early on that the only way he was coming back was on an ultra team-friendly deal, and told Garrett to ride him into the ground. Or until he stopped producing. Which is what they should have done. You take a guy that is a great runner but hurts you with fumbles 30% as much as he helps you (arbitrary ratio), looking for the biggest contract possible, with the last memory being a touchdown costing fumble, he’s gone. Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar can team up with whoever we draft (as long as we have this O line, every draft needs to include a runningback) and give us 75% of what Murray did. But that 75% is coming at a better cost percentage than Murray would have in 2015. That cost savings can be allocated to a player/players that can help other ways (Cole MFing Beasley) and still produce wins.
This was a great season, and one that I wouldn’t have ever imagined in September. They’ve changed my view of them, and I think the country’s view too. It was a hell of a ride, and I’ll never forget it. It’s sad that it had to end, but only 1 team is happy with the way their season ends. If the right pieces are kept and added, yesterday could become our January 5th 1992.