UNDATED (WLOX) - Whichever way you'd like to look at the Dallas Cowboys' 26-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Round game, the NFL did not properly interpret Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant's actions during the eventual last offensive play for the Cowboys.
With 4:44 left in the fourth quarter and Green Bay leading 26-21, the Cowboys faced a 4th-and-2 situation at the Packers 32-yard line. Quarterback Tony Romo threw a deep pass to the sideline intended for the 6-foot-2 Bryant, who leaped over 5-foot-11 Packers cornerback Sam Shields and initially made the catch.
He was ruled down at the Green Bay 1-yard line, but Packers head coach Mike McCarthy challenged the ruling of a catch on the field.
After reviewing the play, referee Gene Steratore stated that Bryant did not maintain possession during the process of the catch.
In this case, the NFL determined that Bryant's actions were parallel to Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1, which states:
"Player Going to the Ground. 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 throughout the process of contacting 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. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete."
While this rule was properly enforced, Bryant's actions during the play should not have been based on this item of the league's rulebook.
Instead, the play should have been judged on Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 4, which states:
"Ball Touches Ground. If the ball touches the ground after the player secures control of it, it is a catch, provided that the player continues to maintain control."
Item 4 would not have applied if he had not:
a) secured control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground
b) touched the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
c) maintain control of the ball long enough after (a) and (b) had been fulfilled, to enable him to perform any act common to the game (i.e., control it long enough to pitch it, pass it, etc.)
But as video evidence clearly showed, Bryant (a) secured possession, (b) took three steps and (c) maintained possession long enough to dive for the endzone in an attempt to score a touchdown -- also known as performing any act common to the game.
Therefore, because he completed actions (a), (b) and (c), Item 4 should have been enforced, and not the league's decision to follow Item 1.
Also, Bryant's knee and elbow touched the ground as he extended the ball to the 1-yard line. Would that not make him down by contact before the ball was considered to be moving since he made contact with Shields?
However, even with all of this information, we should not assume that the Cowboys would actually score a touchdown after picking up a 1st-and-goal at the Green Bay 1-yard line that would have been the result of a catch by Bryant.
We also cannot assume that the Packers wouldn't drive down the field after a possible Cowboys touchdown to take the lead.
Whichever way you look at it, while Bryant and the Cowboys have a right to disagree with the NFL's interpretation of the rule, they had plenty of chances to win the game and make that critical 4th-down play irrelevant.