Heroic Dez Bryant catch erased from history by technicality

The Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers played an epic playoff game earlier today, but the above clip is what will leave a lasting mark moving forward. With a shade under 5:00 left in the 4th quarter and the Packers clinging to a five-point lead, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo unleashed a beautifully thrown jump ball to his top target — Dez Bryant — on 4th and 2, and for a minute it looked like the Cowboys were on the verge to seizing control of the game.

After the catch was reviewed, however, head official Gene Steratore determined that Bryant “did not maintain possession of the football during the process of the catch. The ball comes loose, hits the ground, therefore the ruling is an incomplete forward pass.”

As I was watching the game live, I wanted badly for it to be a catch. After all, the moment had everything: It was fourth down; Dallas was trailing by five, so they were going for six instead of three; Tony Romo; Dez fucking Bryant; it was a truly awesome moment in an NFL postseason game.

That the Cowboys inevitably lost because of this call sucks. The Packers assumed possession and bled the clock out. So, what was a great play by Dez is now more like the great play that never happened. We will never know what would have happened if Dallas took a 29-26, or even 27-26 lead with four and a half minutes to go.

That last sentence is where I’m drawing the line when I say, shit, that blows, instead of bemoaning the officials for ruling as they did because it was the Cowboys, or some conspiracy theory about how the NFL is against Jerry Jones or Tony Romo or Dez Bryant or whatever. Or that the officials have something against the Cowboys.

If you reverse the situation, put the Packers trailing 26-21 and Aaron Rodgers throwing a 4th and 2 jump ball to Jordy Nelson, with the same thing happening, the NFL would have to carry out the letter of the law. Even Mike Pereira — FOX’s hotshot officiating expert — broke it down while it was happening:

And the rule is pretty specific: in the process of going to the ground if the ball touches the ground and comes loose, then it’s an incomplete pass. The ground can cause an incomplete pass.

I’m not a fan of Pereira, but it seems pretty cut and dry based on that. Bryant went up, caught the ball, then after the faintest obstruction from Packers corner Sam Shields, Dez tries to maintain control as he goes to the ground. In his left hand as he comes to the ground, the ball and tundra do make contact, and the ball jars loose.

By rule, I think the referee made the right call, even though the fan in me wanted so so so much for it to be a catch. I like Tony Romo and I love Dez Bryant as football players, and I would have loved to see Aaron Rodgers get the ball back with the game on the line. And for the Cowboys — who proved without a doubt they belonged on the field with one of the NFL’s best — to have had the chance to make a defensive stop and rematch the Seahawks in the NFC Championship.

Instead, we’ll remember this game more for the what ifs and an unpopular call on the field. After a great game, that’s what’s most disappointing about the outcome. Dez Bryant deserves credit for a great catch, Romo for a great game, and the Cowboys in general for a great season.

I’m not upset with the call Steratore arrived at, just that the game had to end because of it.