If Cowboys fans had anything to really complain about late Sunday afternoon, it was a missed pass interference call. It took place after the game was over. And it happened 1,932 miles from Lambeau Field.
The Cowboys under Jason Garrett’s robotic guidance do not get ahead of themselves. They do not deal with hypotheticals. Fortunately here at The Dallas Morning News we have no such constraints. So with the Cowboys sitting at a lofty and unexpected 5-1 and taking a week off from the rigors of an NFL season, what better time to look at their competition not within the division but all around the NFC?
The Cowboys still have a Thanksgiving Day game left against the 4-2 Washington Redskins and two games to play against the 3-2 Philadelphia Eagles, so the competition in the East is right in front of them. The division fight will take care of itself. But the battles throughout the conference are more indirect, which brings us to the pass interference on Seattle’s Richard Sherman that was not called.
The Atlanta Falcons had come roaring back from a 14-point halftime deficit to take the lead, then gave the lead back to Seattle. Down 26-24, on fourth down with less than two minutes to play, Matt Ryan threw a deep pass down the middle to Julio Jones, one of the most feared receivers in the NFL. Replays clearly show Sherman not just grabbing Jones’ right arm as he tries to leap for the pass but pulling his body in that direction. Jones was forced to attempt a one-handed grab with his left hand and could not quite haul in the pass.
Atlanta coach Dan Quinn went ballistic on the sideline although afterwards he resorted to coachspeak, moving on to the next game and such. So did Jones, who did say he was interfered with, but added, “It was just a missed call. It’s done.”
Well, it was a mighty big missed call to the Seahawks, the Falcons and, yes, the Cowboys when you consider these teams could be jockeying for the top spot in the NFC with the Minnesota Vikings in December. And it’s one more reminder of what Bill Belichick and I have been arguing for years: Coaches should be allowed to challenge interference calls. (Are our two voices really not powerful enough?)
It would not slow down games. It’s not an additional challenge flag for coaches to throw. It’s simply the belief that they should be allowed to ask anything to be reviewed, even holding, although I think that would be rare because of the difficulty of making that call.
They wouldn’t do it very often because the interference call is subjective enough that referees won’t be inclined to overturn a missed call that’s not blatantly obvious. This one was blatantly obvious. Atlanta should have had a first down around the Seattle 30 with plenty of time to set up for a game-winning field goal as they trailed by just two points.
This one was clear enough that Fox’s Mike Pereira, the former NFL official, tweeted, “No question that was PI … you have to make that call.”
How different would it be if the Falcons were tied with Dallas at 5-1 and the Seahawks had fallen to 3-2 while getting ready to go play their 3-3 division rivals in Arizona?
The Falcons are bouncing back into the hunt after not finishing over .500 since 2012. But you know the Seahawks. They have won playoff games in all four of Russell Wilson’s NFL seasons, and games in Seattle still rank as the toughest for visitors to play.
Dallas does not play Seattle or Arizona, so conference records and other tiebreakers could come into play if these teams find themselves with similar records at season’s end.
The Cowboys do play the undefeated Vikings at Minnesota, a rare Thursday night telecast that sounds intriguing, one week after hosting Washington. The only other NFC team outside the division with a winning record is the 3-2 Green Bay Packers. The Cowboys took care of any issues with that club Sunday afternoon.
With the 0-6 Cleveland Browns on deck after their Oct. 30 game with Philadelphia, you have to feel like Dallas will hit the midseason mark at 6-2 even if things go really wrong against the Eagles. That record and the youthful nature of their star players can only suggest this team will be in the running for one of the top spots in the NFC. Suddenly that makes games like Seattle-Atlanta and their outcomes more important to Cowboys fans than anyone would have imagined two months ago.
Get it right, NFL. Let coaches challenge calls they see that your officials miss.